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Watch that door!

1 April, 2011

Colliding with a car door is the number one cause of injury to riders. Emma Clark investigates how to take preventative action.

Many riders who comfortably contend with stray pedestrians, surprise potholes and unpredictable drivers will tell you there is one hazard they are particularly wary of; the unexpected appearance of a car door directly ahead. While some angry shouting, sudden braking, deft manoeuvring and a near miss is often the result, being ‘doored’ can also end with bruising, lost teeth, broken limbs and lawsuits.

Steve McGhie, Victorian state secretary of Ambulance Australia, told Ride On, “Over 30% of all accidents involving bike riders are a result of people opening car doors into bike traffic. There’s a definite need to increase awareness about these accidents and to change driver habits.”

The law

Australia’s road laws state it is illegal to open a vehicle door into oncoming traffic. This includes when the vehicle is parked and the engine is turned off, passenger doors on either side of the vehicle, and doors on the back and sides of trucks, taxis and vans. Many drivers are not aware of this law, and assume it is the rider’s fault for hitting an opening door. They are wrong.

If you are forced into traffic to avoid an opening door and are hit by a vehicle, the person opening the door will still be held legally responsible. Get the details of all the vehicles involved.

The good news is there are some basic precautions riders can take to limit the chances of a close encounter with a car door.

Ride sensibly and conservatively, be predictable and ride in a straight line. Avoid narrow spaces with no room to swerve or time to stop, and above all, when possible try to ride out from the ‘door zone’ – about one metre out from cars.

Try to anticipate the actions of people in their cars: look for brake lights, an indication the car has just pulled into the space, and try and glance inside for that telltale sign of an arm reaching for the door handle. At night, keep an eye out for interior lights going on or off.

If possible, avoid narrow roads with fast moving traffic and parked cars, and ride at a speed that gives you time to avoid a heavy collision. Bright clothes and flashing lights help, but don’t assume people in a car have seen you.

If you see a car door about to open in front of you, shout “Look out!” If a collision seems likely, hit the brakes quickly. The front brake will stop your bike the fastest, but to prevent the bike’s back rearing up, and you flying over the handlebars, use both front and rear brakes. As you do so, slide back off your seat and throw your weight as much as possible over the back wheel.

You may have to make a split-second decision to either hit the door or swerve into traffic. Being constantly aware of your surroundings at all times makes this decision easier.

If you are injured, stay calm and get off the road immediately. As soon as you can, write down the crash particulars. Record the time and place of the incident, the driver’s details and those of the person getting out of the car (if it was a passenger); the car’s registration number, make and model; and details of any witnesses. Sign and date the record and get it witnessed, as it may be useful later if there is a dispute. Always be sure to report the crash to the police, even if you can walk away relatively unharmed.

Bicycle Victoria’s Kath Clifton commented, “Our members, and Bicycling Western Australia members, can contact their membership organisation for legal advice and help with making insurance claims, and with assistance in writing letters of demand.

“As soon as possible after a collision, contact your state’s transport accident authority, or insurer. Some riders who are injured in the course of their employment may also be covered by WorkCover or ComCare.

“A car door crash is classified as an ‘accident involving a motor vehicle in the act of driving’ by our state’s Transport Accident Commission, following lobbying by Bicycle Victoria.”

Have you ever had a near miss with a car door?

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