Bicycle commuting is rapidly gaining popularity across the nation, but especially in California. San Francisco saw commutes rise by nearly 9 percent in 2016, with an estimated 82,000 bike trips every day.
However, with the prevalence of bicycles also comes the potential for danger, as cyclists and motorists learn to coexist on the busy SF streets. One of the most dangerous things that can happen is “dooring” – when a parked vehicle unknowingly opens their door to obstruct the path of an incoming cyclist. While it may sound comical, dooring may result in potentially serious, painful injuries including:
- Severe road rash
- Broken bones
- Serious bruising
- Internal bleeding
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Spinal cord injuries
It can get worse. In Manhattan, a 74-year-old bicyclist was doored by a passenger, and eventually ended up dying of her injuries 10 days later.
If you’re a bicyclist, it’s a good idea to be aware of dooring, any rules and regulations surrounding it, and what to do in case you’ve been doored.
Laws Around Dooring
Believe it or not, dooring laws do exist – but most of them are not explicit laws against dooring. 40 states have a dooring law, and the majority of them say that it’s illegal to keep your door open longer than necessary. Only four states explicitly mention bicyclists and pedestrians in their dooring laws:
- District of Columbia
- Rhode Island
In California, dooring is covered under CVC 22517. It states that no one should open a vehicle door on the traffic side if it is unsafe or obstructs traffic – and if they open the door, it should not be open longer than necessary to load and unload passengers. Under this law, bicyclists are protecting from dooring, as they are considered road traffic in the state’s eyes.
What Do I Do If I’ve Been Doored?
Getting doored can be a sudden, stunning experience, but there are some steps you can take to ensure you can the protection and damages you deserve.
- Ask the driver to stay at the scene. If they cannot stay, be sure to get all of their information, including name, DOB, address, license number, insurance information, and the make, model, and license plate number of his vehicle.
- Call 911 and request a police officer to arrive.
- Find any and all witnesses, and request that they stay around to give information to the police.
- When the police arrive, request an incident report and a formal citation for the offending motorist. Just in case, record the officer’s name and badge number.
- Go to the doctor. You may not feel injured due to the adrenaline coursing through your body, but issues can arise even days later.
With this information, you may either contact your insurance provider, or consult an attorney to pursue any further damages and compensation.
Who is Liable?
Because the state of California has a law against dooring, in most cases the responsibility falls solely on the motorist when a dooring accident occurs.
However, in certain cases, the bicyclist may share the blame in the accident. This may happen if the cyclist in question was not following the appropriate laws as well – not having proper safety measures such as lights and reflectors while riding during the evenings, not riding with traffic, or generally riding in a reckless manner.
How Do I Avoid Being Doored/Dooring Someone?
There are a number of things motorists and cyclists can do to prevent these dangerous dooring situations from occurring.
If you’re a motorist, stay alert and always be aware of your surroundings when you’re opening your door. One of the most effective ways to do this is to employ the “Dutch reach” – using your right hand to open the driver-side door, forcing your entire body to pivot and give you a natural look at your surroundings. This practice was initially innovated in the Netherlands, where Dutch drivers are required to learn this during their driver’s education classes – and some states are even adding it in their driver safety manuals.
If you’re a cyclist, riding outside the door zone will assure that you never get doored. Most bike lanes are typically out of the door zone, but in situations where streets are shared, this can be difficult. One little known tip is to ride right in the middle of the “sharrows” – the double arrows painted on the ground in shared lanes. These are designed so that cyclists riding directly in the middle of the sharrows are well outside of the door zone – and therefore will not get hit by a car door from a parked vehicle.
Ultimately, preventing dooring is dependent on both cyclists and motorists being constantly aware of their surroundings. As a cyclist, keeping your head on a swivel is the best way.