Urban cyclists encounter many dangers: Path-clogging pedestrians and reckless drivers are among the most obvious, but bikers also face an under-the-radar road risk called “dooring”—the collision that results when a parked driver opens their car door into an oncoming pedaler’s path.
Most states don’t track dooring accidents, so it’s hard to determine just how often they occur. However, Grid Chicago analyzed Illinois Department of Transportation data from 2011, and found that one in five bike crashes in Chicago were caused by dooring that year.
Children in the Netherlands learn this habit from their teachers and parents, and it’s even included on their driving tests. Now, the practice is starting to catch on in the U.S., thanks in part to vocal evangelists like Michael Charney.
Charney, a doctor from Cambridge, Massachusetts, founded a website called dutchreach.org after a local woman named Amanda Phillips was killed in a dooring accident. It provides resources about cycling safety, and suggests ways to promote the Dutch Reach. Meanwhile, advocacy groups like the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition are also spreading the word.
To prevent dooring accidents, drivers in the Netherlands rely on a simple practice that’s been dubbed the “Dutch Reach”: After parking, they reach for their car door’s handle using their right arm instead of their left one, even though the latter is closer to the door. This method forces the drivers to pivot their bodies so they look over their shoulders, allowing them to notice incoming bikers on the street.
Some U.S. cities, like Minneapolis, are starting to build protected paths for bike-loving commuters. But in most places, designated paths for cyclists are situated in a “door zone,” a.k.a. the buffer zone between parked cars and the main road. Until more cities invest in infrastructure changes to keep bikers safe, U.S. drivers can save lives by adjusting their habits.
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