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Bicyclist Dooring – How Cyclists and Motorists Can Prevent One of the Most Common Bicycle Accidents

by on March 4, 2015 » Add the first comment.

Bicyclist “dooring,” when a parked driver unknowingly opens a door in a cyclist’s path, is one of the most common causes of bicycle accidents. In the U.S, dooring is a long standing problem, the severity of which is only now coming to light.

In 2011, a Chicago study reported that dooring crashes made up for nearly 19.7% of bicycle crashes, equating to roughly one a day. In cities that have mild climates and are suitable for cycling year round, the numbers can only be worse. In Los Angeles last year, a cyclist was killed in North Hollywood when a driver flung open a door directly in his path. This was the 29th cycling death in the county of Los Angeles in 2014.

Though dooring incidents are not usually fatal, they cause physical, emotional, and financial damage to the cyclist. One of the biggest causes of dooring is both the cyclist and the motorist neglecting to pay attention. Part of the problem is that many cities have a designated bike lane located within four feet (the “door zone”) of parked cars. A split second of inattention by either party can lead to an accident. So what can cyclists – and motorists – do to prevent dooring incidents?

For Cyclists:

Aside from some commonsense suggestions, like following lane markings, not weaving between parked cars, and not passing on the right, there are a few other ways cyclists can be prepared:

  • First and foremost, pay attention! Slow down, ride with both hands on the handlebars, and be prepared to brake or swerve at all times. As you’re riding, look at parked cars for signs of occupants, brake lights, or other movements. Pay special attention to taxis.
  • Riding out of the door zone and taking the car lane is perfectly legal as long as it could be proven that riding in the bike lane would be impractical. If you’re in an area with a lot of parked cars or driveways, you can legally ride in the car lane. Keep in mind, however, that it is not always safe to take the car lane for long distances.
  • Alternatively, you can ride the edge of the door zone. “Share the road” arrows are placed right outside the door zone – if you ride through the center of the arrow, you are outside the reach of swinging doors.
  • Experienced cyclists can modify their bicycles to have narrower handlebars.
  • Wear a reflective vest that is visible day or night, or use a flashing headlight.

For Motorists:

Most importantly, for drivers as well cyclists, pay attention to the road around you. There are many distractions that can change your focus, even while doing something as seemingly simple as parking your car. Here are a few additional things to keep in mind:

  • The law requires that motorists stop and look for cyclists on the traffic side before exiting a parked vehicle, but many motorists forget to do so. Take the time to look!
  • Be aware if you are on a street with a bike lane. This bike lane will most likely be too close to cars on the right. Just because it’s designated for cyclists doesn’t mean they’re in an impervious safety bubble.
  • Treat cyclists as part of traffic and respect their space like you would with another motorist. Leave cyclists at least 3 feet of passing room.

Meanwhile, cities across the country are beginning to enact changes to further prevent bicycle crashes. Studies found that cities offering buffered bike lanes, instead of wider lanes, saw a decrease in dooring incidents. This is because cyclists tend to subconsciously ride in the center of a bike lane, which doesn’t allow for enough door space. When there is a clearly demarcated buffer, cyclists will stay to the left. Los Angeles Department of Transportation is working to install their goal of 200 miles of expanded bike lanes every 5 years. Of course, infrastructure changes like this take time, and the only thing cyclists and motorists can do is wait. In the meantime, look out for each other and stay safe!

Find more like this: Premises Liability and Injuries

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