Responsible motorists are keenly aware of the danger that other cars, trucks and motor vehicles pose on the road. It’s obvious why you need to stop and look both ways when you come to a stop sign. Nobody needs to be reminded not to start accelerating when they are waiting at the red light of a four-way intersection. These dangers are obvious to any licensed driver with even a shred of personal responsibility.
What is less obvious is the danger created when a car door is opened in the path of oncoming bike riders. Particularly for people who commute to but don’t live in New York City, it might not be obvious just how popular biking has become. Bike ridership in New York City has been trending upwards for more than 10 years, and to accommodate this trend the city added more than 20 miles of protected bike lanes in 2018, with plans to continue adding more bike lanes in the coming years.
Personal transportation is changing right before our eyes, and biking is more popular than ever. As the character of New York City transportation changes, our safety behaviors and routines must change along with them in order to keep our city streets as safe as possible–which brings us to the Dutch Reach.
A Small Change Makes a Big Difference
The maneuver known as the Dutch Reach is as simple as opening the car door with your far or opposite hand, rather than your near one. This simple change forces you to actually turn your body towards the side mirror and the side you are getting out on. This gives you a natural vantage point to see out of the side-view mirror and check that there are no cyclists coming before opening the door.
Opening a car door in the middle of oncoming traffic is not only dangerous, it is also illegal. New York Vehicle & Traffic Law Section 1214 states that “[n]o person shall open the door of a motor vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so and can be done without interfering with the movement of other traffic.” When bike accidents occur this way, it is known as being ‘doored,’ and the results can be dangerous, if not deadly.
A 2015 study by the University of British Columbia in Vancouver referenced by the New York Times found that “the car-to-cyclist crash type with the most injuries was doorings.” But New Yorkers, particularly those who regularly ride bikes in the city, are keenly aware that these doorings can be fatal. That tragic reminder came just six hours into 2019, when a 26-year-old delivery cyclist named Hugo Garcia was killed after a taxi passenger opened their door in his biking path, causing him to land amongst oncoming traffic where he was run over and killed.
Dooring Accidents Can Lead to Serious Lawsuits
We’ve seen that opening your car door before checking for oncoming traffic can be deadly, but it can also be very costly. Recently, Block O’Toole & Murphy reached a $2,500,000 settlement in a bike accident lawsuit for a cyclist who was on his way to work when he was struck by the suddenly-opened door of a double-parked Access-A-Ride van.
Our client was thrown head-first over his handlebars and checked into a hospital that same day with low back pain. He was later diagnosed with numerous herniated discs which required surgery. He also tore his meniscus and was eventually diagnosed with multiple severe hip injuries, which doctors speculated would eventually require hip replacement surgery. The Defendant testified that he simply did not see the cyclist before opening his door.
Prevent Unnecessary Accidents and Lawsuits with the Dutch Reach
In the Dutch language, there is no word for what we know as the Dutch Reach, because the simple motion has become part of the “robust bike safety culture that exists in the Netherlands today.” But this type of safety-forward behavior had to be taught, and it can be learned here in New York City too.
For responsible pedestrians, double-checking for traffic before crossing the street is second nature, but this too is a learned habit. By simply taking an extra second to check for traffic before opening a car door, dooring accidents (and the serious injuries and costly lawsuits which they can cause) can be prevented.
We are 5 years into Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero plan, which aims to put a complete stop to traffic deaths in New York City. To reach achieve this ambitious but very worthy goal, every New Yorker will need to do their part to make the streets a safe place to drive, bike and walk. The cost is too high not to.