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Car dooring: Police propose adoption of ‘Dutch reach’ to help protect cyclists

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Police have called on UK motorists to adopt a new way of opening their car doors in order to reduce the amount of injured cyclists on our roads.

The door opening method is called the ‘Dutch reach’ and involves drivers opening their door with their left hand – meaning they are forced to turn round completely and check their blind spots before opening the door. The same can apply for car passengers, who by opening their door with their right hand will ensure they fully check their blind spots for cyclists and other vulnerable road users before opening their door.bicycle

The proposals are designed to reduce the instances of ‘car dooring’ cyclists – the term given when someone opens a car door directly into the path of a cyclist. Currently ‘car dooring’ is treated as a minor offence and carries a maximum fine of just £1,000. According to the Department of Transport just under 500 cyclists are injured in this way every year, and since 2013 a total of 25 cyclists have died following a car dooring-related accident.

Although the police proposals have been met with some criticism, the potentially life-altering injuries that could be caused by a car dooring accident should surely make drivers think twice. In the Netherlands, which gives the method it’s nickname, children are taught to open their car doors with the other hand from a very early age both at school and at home and the ‘Dutch reach’ is a required section of their driving test.

What is the law for cyclists hit by car doors?

Just like when on the move, motorists need to be aware of cyclists when their vehicle is stationary. The ‘Dutch reach’ method is not practiced here in the UK, but the adoption of it would certainly reduce the instance of car dooring-related accidents and injuries.

Car dooring is a common accident

Cyclists getting injured because drivers open their car doors into their path is a very common problem on UK roads, yet it receives relatively little attention. Around 500 car dooring accidents are reported each year, although the number is likely to be much higher when the more minor accidents that are not officially reported are taken into account.

Car dooring is an offence

The Highway Code actually states that motorists “MUST ensure you do not hit anyone when you open your door. Check for cyclists or other traffic.” Although The Highway Code is designed more for guidance and non-compliance is not an offence, the Road Traffic Act 1988 does indeed make it an offence for anyone to open “any door of a vehicle on a road so as to injury or endanger any person.”

Therefore just the action of opening your door into a cyclists path and endangering then is an offence (e.g. if you make them swerve to avoid your door), there does not have to be an actual collision for an offence to have taken place. Also, the law relates to anyone – not just drivers – so passengers opening their door into a path of a cyclist are also committing an offence.

The maximum punishment a car dooring offence is a fine of up to £1,000, and no penalty points can be imposed on the offender’s licence. It is dealt with by the magistrate’s court and the defendant can plead guilty by letter. As opening vehicle doors into the path of cyclists can lead to very serious injuries and even death, this punishment is clearly inadequate.

Cyclists and contributory negligence in civil cases

In civil cases, the question of whether cyclists should be able to anticipate that a car door may be opened into their path has been raised. This was perhaps most prominently considered in the case of John Burridge v Airwork Ltd (2004), in which the Claimant cyclist hit an opened mini-bus door and was knocked down and into the road where he was struck by a passing vehicle.  The argument from the Defendant was that the Claimant could have reasonably expected that the driver might opened his door after pulling over.

The court eventually ruled that the argument that cyclists who are injured when a vehicle door is opened in front of them are guilty of contributory negligence places too high a standard on cyclists, and that although they may have an opportunity to take avoiding action they are not at fault for failing to do so.

Make a claim

If you have been injured following a car dooring accident, or any road traffic accident, you may be eligible to make a claim for compensation. To find out how CL Legal can help you make a claim on a No Win No Fee basis, get in touch today:

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