The dangers of dooring

In recent years, many Americans are realizing that bicycles are not “just for kids.” In addition to the individual benefits of recreation and exercise, cycling provides many positive effects to society as a whole.

  • Bicycles cause very little damage to roads, which means fewer repairs are required over time.
  • Cycling is fuel-efficient.
  • Cycling does not contribute to global warming or pollution.
  • Riding a bike provides an inexpensive means of transportation for anyone willing to give it a try. Interestingly, research shows that cities adding bike lanes to their transportation infrastructure is good for the economy. In those cities, business and overall employment numbers increased after adding bike lanes.
cyclist about to get doored

Photo credit: Cycling Weekly

However, with progress and change also comes challenges. One significant danger bicyclists face when riding, either in dedicated bike lanes or on the public roadways, is “dooring.” Dooring occurs when a driver or passenger opens a car door directly into a bicyclist’s line of travel. Getting “doored” is a common cause of crashes between bikes and cars, particularly in urban areas where bike lanes have been added. It can result in serious injuries to bicyclists.

In acknowledgement of this real danger to the public, in 2016 Virginia adopted an important safety protection for bicyclists traveling on the roadways by enacting Va. Code § 46.2-818.1, which reads as follows:

Opening and closing motor vehicle doors; penalty.

  • No operator shall open the door of a parked motor vehicle on the side adjacent to moving vehicular traffic unless it is reasonably safe to do so.
  • A violation of this section shall constitute a traffic infraction punishable by a fine of not more than $50. No demerit points shall be awarded by the Commissioner for a violation of this section.
  • The provisions of this section shall not apply to any law-enforcement officer, firefighter, or emergency medical services personnel engaged in the performance of his duties.

Essentially, Virginia law states that the driver of a vehicle is responsible to look out for others, particularly bikers, before opening their car door. Drivers who open a vehicle door on the side of passing traffic without checking to see that it was “reasonably safe to do so” will be assessed a $50.00 fine.

Woman riding a bicycle

What can drivers do to avoid Dooring a cyclist?

To avoid getting a ticket and, more importantly, to avoid injuring a cyclist, drivers should adopt certain habits when getting out of their parked cars. Ideally, vehicle occupants should depart the vehicle on the non-roadway side of the vehicle whenever possible. Drivers also need to remind their passengers to make sure it’s clear before opening their doors.

When this action is not possible, drivers should employ the “Dutch Reach” method which is taught to new drivers, tested, and widely used in the Netherlands (where cycling is more popular than driving). When exiting a vehicle on the roadway side, the driver should: check inside and outside mirrors before attempting to open the door, use the far hand to grab the door handle, forcing the driver’s body to turn, checking the blind spot behind before opening the car door and stepping out.

What can bicyclists do to avoid getting Doored?

While Virginia has taken significant steps to protect bicyclists from getting doored, taking precautions to avoid injury in the first place is always a good step. Generally, it is recommended that cyclists travel in the “safe zone” of the roadway and avoid the “door zone.” The “door zone” is essentially the 3-4 foot area adjacent to stopped or parked vehicles on either side of the roadway.

Even within a designated bike lane, bicyclists should always be vigilant and ready to apply brakes as needed. That is true even in the 3-4 foot “safe zone” because drivers can be illegally double-parked and/or there can be other hazards that make the “safe zone” unsafe for bicyclists.

Additionally, bikers should drive defensively by watching the traffic ahead of and around them and looking out for drivers and passengers who are in their cars. Cyclists should drive slowly in the door zone, carefully move into traffic lanes if the bike lane is not safe, and always scan parked vehicles for occupants, listening for doors opening.

While we all do our best to keep safe, accidents do happen. If a negligent driver has caused your bicycling injury, Allen & Allen may be able to help. Call us for a free consultation at 1-866-388-1307.