Carelessly opened car doors a threat to cyclists

John J. Metro

When a cyclist is traveling down the road and suddenly a vehicle door swings open, they’re left with two dangerous options. They could run straight into the door, possibly flipping over the bike and even the door itself, severely injuring themselves. Or they could swerve around the door into traffic and risk being struck by a passing vehicle.

As shared roads become more popular and the promotion of bicycle infrastructure and micro-mobility expands, “dooring” — as this phenomenon is known — is becoming a growing concern. While cumulative data on dooring incidents is scarce, fatalities are recorded. According to Vision Zero reports, New York City had six cyclists killed after colliding with or dodging a car door in the past two years.

Dooring laws are codified in 41 states, creating a legal obligation for a driver to open a door only when there is no bicycle or pedestrian traffic that could be affected. New Jersey has yet to pass such legislation and should implement a comprehensive definition for dooring, reflecting language similar to the Rhode Island law: “No person shall open the door of a motor vehicle on the roadways, streets, or highways of this state, 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, including pedestrians and bicycles on sidewalks, shoulders, or bicycle lanes. No person shall leave a door open on the side of a vehicle available to moving traffic, including pedestrians and bicycles on sidewalks, shoulders or bicycle lanes, for a period of time longer than necessary to load or unload passengers.” Enactment of such a law will require drivers or passengers in a vehicle to open their door with a degree of care for traffic moving past them in the space near to the vehicle.

Additionally, New Jersey should educate and promote new layers of precautions concerning driver activities. For example, the Dutch Reach is a term minted for a safe way for people to exit vehicles that keeps cyclists’ safety in mind. Opening a car door with the hand furthest from the handle forces drivers and passengers to check over their shoulders for approaching traffic. The method is designed for the safety of all road users but specifically aims to reduce incidents where car doors open in the path of oncoming bicyclist. This approach should be added to the state driver’s manual and added to the exam question pool on the driver’s test. These actions are necessary steps in helping drivers incorporate this practice into the state’s culture and become second nature to all automobile drivers and passengers.

These steps are valuable components towards the goal of safe, shared roads in New Jersey. But even without these steps, drivers and passengers need to take some responsibility. Dooring laws and teaching the Dutch Reach are both behavioral nudges toward creating an environment in which all road users are considering the safety of others.

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