Guest Post: Mind those doors!

Cycling in Chch reader Helen Leigh sent me a slightly harrowing story:

“I am an avid cyclist and have cycled for well over 10 years and have traversed much of the city. It was the first week in January this year and I was about 7km into a 16km cycle ride, when a lady suddenly opened her car door & sent me literally flying; she was in one of those huge SUV type cars with tinted windows so there was absolutely no way I could have seen her to stop or swerve & I am ALWAYS watching for that too. I had a head wind so I wasn’t going at full speed thankfully, but the force of it all still flattened me onto the busy road & I knocked my head back hard against the road (ironically it wasn’t my helmet that saved my head it was the round plastic adjuster on the back, otherwise I am sure it would not have been pretty).

I have spent the last week and a half, unable to properly bend my skinned knee without shooting pain, as well as a sore neck and shoulder, which I couldn’t raise my arm because of the pain & I think it was where perhaps her wing mirror clotheslined me, and the biggest blackest bruises that are still visible now. The lady was of course apologetic, but this was ENTIRELY unnecessary, if she had taken one second to check her wing mirror, I would not have suffered two weeks of pain! And there is no compensation for cyclists in this instance is there? She mentioned I had an old bike which I thought later on was an odd thing to say, unless she was making a point. The location was on Ferry Road in Woolston up where ‘Around again Cycles’ is, and all those shops with lots of on-street parking!”

Keep clear…

Sorry to hear about that Helen; I hope you are slowly on the mend. ‘Dooring’ is still one of those ongoing problems for on-road cycling. This earlier article on dooring I wrote might be of help to some of you, providing some advice on the matter.

While the onus is legally on motor vehicle occupants to check the way is clear before opening their doors (and the “Dutch Reach” is a great thing to teach drivers), a bit of “defensive riding” on the part of those on bikes can also save a lot of grief. I don’t know how many times I have followed another rider ‘hugging’ some parked cars and in my head I’m thinking “move further away…” and hoping that I don’t see an unfortunate incident. Position yourself so that you couldn’t reach out and touch the parked vehicles – don’t rely solely on any road markings to guide you. Contrary to popular belief, it’s those stationary cars on your left that are a greater hazard than the moving ones on your right…

Some nice buffer spaces in Auckland – but still not enough to fit two riders safely…

Fortunately we’re getting better at rolling out more separated cycleways where the issue becomes moot; even many new on-road cycle lanes are being provided with painted buffer strips to provide a clear “dooring zone”. But invariably we will probably all end up on a normal untreated street at some point. If you’re biking, give yourself a wider berth passing cars; if you’re driving, take a second look before opening that door…

Have you ever been ‘doored’ before?

7 thoughts on “Guest Post: Mind those doors!”

  1. It happens more often than we think. I have been doored 3 times in 10 years. The last one was worst. Off work over 8 months. My body will never heal properly, and the driver was a trucky who should have known better, but was distracted. I now only cycle on designated cycleways, never on the road again.

  2. It is a problem, but it has only happened to me once in about 30 years of riding. I hit a door while doing about 30km/h. The car was parked in a cycle lane which meant I was already out in the traffic in an area where there are a lot of trucks and it was in an area where they have to swing wide so I was weary of being too far out. I didn’t see the door at all but felt it and before I could even react I was laying on the road on my back in the middle of the lane. Fortunately there was no traffic in my immediate area, so I picked myself and my bike up and made it to the side of the road. I bent the car door but I received my only broken bone ever (rib), received whiplash and a mild concussion to top it off. I lodged an indecent report with the Police as it was technically an injury accident. I had six weeks of recovery and the driver was told to be careful in the future, not even a fine for parking in a cycle lane… This was on what is now one of the new main cycle routes. The only come back on him was that if he didn’t replace his door he would get wet when driving in the rain 🙂

  3. Over many years of commuting I expected around 2-3 dooring incidents a year, so I always ride far enough out to be safe from any vehicle door. I’d also strongly recommend hi-vis always and multiple lights as often as possible. As to blocking traffic, I put my safety first.

  4. Dooring is a seriously under-reported issue, because most of us wouldn’t know that it’s possible to report, let alone who to report it to. And would the Police take us seriously if we reported an incident? It might depend on which officer you happen to talk to. I’ve been doored twice, though was far enough away both times to not actually get hit off my bike. I always ride at least a metre out from parked cars – I know that if I’m even close to being able to reach out and touch the car, then I’m too close.
    I personally know 5 people who’ve been doored and knocked off their bikes. One had his foot sliced open by the bottom metal flank of the car door, needing surgery to reattach something in his foot. Cast and crutches for 6 weeks.
    Please please everyone, take the space you need away from parked car doors. We might get yelled at occasionally by the odd person driving who doesn’t get it, but that’s worth it to keep ourselves safe.

  5. Here in Europe and in the UK in particular (have lived as an expat in the UK and France), since the legal obligations is for the driver to check before opening their door it would be enough to take a photo of their car including the registration plate if one was carrying a smartphone. Next make a complaint to the police if you can and phone up one of the many lawyers specialialising in accident compensation law if they haven’t already contacted you. This almost always results in a £10000 plus payout to the victim by the guilty party’s insurance company. That doesn’t help if you’re fighting for your life in hospital or dead but short of that it remains an effective deterrent to motorists when they know they can effectively be sued.

    1. Thanks Tom. In NZ the legal obligation is similar; however personal injury is largely covered by the national Accident Compensation Scheme. You can probably claim any property damage to your bike from the driver’s insurance, and then it’s a case of getting Police to charge the occupant, typically for just “cause hazard with motor vehicle doors” ($150 infringement fine), although in a more serious outcome they might consider “careless use of a vehicle causing injury/death”.

  6. It’s important to realise that most fatalities caused by doorings are not through hitting the door, but swerving to avoid it. It’s instinctual, so people will swerve even if the door isn’t directly in their path. So riding outside the door zone is a good idea, but won’t necessarily prevent an incident if someone swings a car door open like a maniac.

    I don’t think teaching the “dutch reach” is an answer either because for the driver to remember to do that, they are having to remember to do something differently, so you might as well just teach them to expect and look for cyclists before opening their car door.

    Moving the cycle lane to the other side of the cars is the only solution that makes sense to me. If you’re forcing people to get out of their car into a live lane, instead of forcing the cyclists to ride in a live lane of traffic, the decision they’re making is for their own life rather than other people’s and unfortunately people are liable to take more care when the person who is going to get hurt is themselves.

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