Dutch Reach

Dooring is a traffic collision in which a cyclist rides into a car door or is struck by a car door that was opened quickly without checking first for cyclists by using the side mirror and/or performing a proper shoulder check out and back.

The width of the door zone in which this can happen varies, depending upon the model of car one is passing. The zone can be almost zero for a vehicle with gull-wing doors or much larger for a truck. Dooring can happen when a driver has parked and is exiting their vehicle, or when passengers are exiting from cars, taxis and ride shares into the path of a cyclist approaching from the rear.

Most areas have laws that require car users to check for cyclists before opening the door of their vehicle, but there have been serious injuries and deaths caused by drivers illegally opening their doors in the path of a passing cyclist where this is prohibited by law. Many countries are aligned with the Vienna convention which states: ‘It shall be prohibited to open the door of a vehicle, to leave it open, or to alight from the vehicle without having made sure that to do so cannot endanger other road-users.’

Many areas have laws may be interpreted as requiring cyclists to ride in the door zone, meaning they may expose themselves to danger in order to keep out of the way of motorized traffic. These laws typically have exceptions; avoiding hazards, such as an open door, is sometimes among them.

The problem lies with avoiding the five feet zone, which should be part of the parking zone, when there is a bike lane or the perception by law enforcement or motorists that one should be riding their bike out of the travel lane to not impede faster motorized traffic. In most jurisdictions, a cyclist is considered a driver/operator of a vehicle afforded the same rights as the driver of a motor vehicle; however, in some jurisdictions cyclists are further restricted by laws such as ‘ride as far right as practicable.’

Because it is rarely possible to see and react safely to a suddenly opening door, traffic cycling educational programs teach cyclists to ride in the travel lane outside of the door zone.

Motorists and passengers – both front and rear – may be able to make dooring less likely by practicing the ‘Dutch Reach’ – opening the car door by reaching across the body with the more distant hand which promotes a shoulder check – out and back – to scan for cyclists and other oncoming traffic.

Reaching across turns one’s upper body and head outward. It encourages drivers and front passengers to use the side mirror, look out to the side and then over one’s shoulder to scan for traffic before opening. Once the door is partly opened, as one leans out one’s over-the-shoulder view is now clear, no longer limited by side pillar (car) or door frame. As a further safe-guard against dooring, reaching across curbs wide, sudden opening.

The reach method is likely less practiced by Dutch motorists today than in the 1960s-1980s when Dutch road fatalities numbered in the thousands and prompted the ‘Stop the Kindermoord’ protest movement to end the carnage. Anecdotal reports date the ‘reach across’ practice to that era. Since then bicycling in The Netherlands is much safer due to innovative and extensive infrastructure improvements, separate and protected cycle tracks, strict driver education and testing, popular use of bicycles for daily transport and dedication to road safety.

The ‘Dutch Reach’ has been promoted in other countries under a variety of other names. In Connecticut it was called the ‘European cities’ or ‘reach-across’ method, in Colorado it was called the ‘Opposite Hand Trick,’ and in Australia it’s referenced by a road safety slogan: ‘Lead with your left.’

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