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Watch that door!

25 May, 2012

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

The law

Australia’s road laws state it is an offence 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.

Photo by Heidi Marfurt.

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.”

Avoiding the ‘door prize’

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.

Getting support

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 Network’s Kath Struthers commented, “Riders should contact their membership organisation for legal advice and help with making insurance claims, and with assistance in writing letters of demand.

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

“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.”

Ride On content is editorially independent, but is supported financially by members of Bicycle Network. If you enjoy our articles and want to support the future publication of high-quality content, please consider helping out by becoming a member.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. 13 June, 2012 4:19 pm

    some bike lanes that are wider than the width of a car door would help too. Many of the bike lanes around melbourne just have the effect of forcing cyclists to ride in the “dooring zone”.

    • SPD permalink
      13 June, 2012 7:09 pm

      Indeed! If you follow the advice in this article and avoid the “valley of death” it’s not uncommon to receive calls of “get in the !@$%’ing bike lane” yelled out the window of a overtaking car. Love Melbourne drivers.

    • Mike Kulls permalink
      14 June, 2012 9:06 am

      I don’t really consider these to be bike lanes. As far as I’m concerned they are just the road with a picture of a bike painted on them.

  2. Emil Kosmina permalink
    14 June, 2012 12:03 am

    Hi I have a question about what was stated in the ride on letter.
    The article wrote about dooring.
    Does on coming traffic mean coming towards you?
    Most dooring occurs when a bicycle is riding along side a car.

    • 18 June, 2012 12:30 pm

      The sentence means: you can’t open your door if it going to block the path of a vehicle coming past you.

  3. 14 June, 2012 9:29 am

    Agree with SPD, we need to improve road markings to indicate the appropriate place to ride as currently the road markings would have you ‘doored’ every day! Grant

  4. Alfred permalink
    14 June, 2012 11:46 am

    In Europe much more emphasis is placed on drivers education re dooring. Maybe all drivers tests should include a check on “looking-over-the-shoulder when getting out off a vehicle” and not doing so resulting in an automatic FAIL. That would make it clear!!!!

    • SPD permalink
      14 June, 2012 12:14 pm

      It’s even more fundamental than that though.

      I find drivers regularly get angry at a cyclist (read: me) giving a car a sufficiently wide berth to avoid being doored whenever that means the cyclist is forced to cross into the motor vehicle lane.

      Drivers fail to realise that it is not the cyclist at fault. The road system is at fault as there is insufficient space for the motor vehicle to fit through at the same time as the bicycle.

      As long as the policy of painting a bike marking on the road and believing that magically causes it to become a bike lane is pursued, it will perpetuate drivers’ failure to comprehend that they are SHARING the road resource with the cyclists (and vice-versa): they don’t OWN it.

      Vehicle drivers seem to genuinely believe cyclists actually ENJOY having to veer out and interrupt the traffic; as if the cyclist’s only reason for being on the road is to get in the way. How about a moment to reflect on how much the motor vehicles get in the cyclist’s way?!

      Furthermore, while motor vehicle drivers jump up and down about a cyclist being forced to ride around a parked car to avoid being doored, the same drivers have no qualms about drifting into, parking in/over or just plain driving across a bike lane.

  5. rus hamilton permalink
    14 June, 2012 6:31 pm

    ‘Cycle past one metre, drive past half metre’, most drivers will lose only one door before they start looking before opening.
    rus – cycle tourist, truck driver

  6. Jerome permalink
    17 June, 2012 8:42 pm

    Keep your hands on the brakes while riding near cars – reduces reaction time.

  7. TGH permalink
    4 June, 2014 1:24 pm

    As the rule about riding in marked bike lanes states that bike riders must ride in them unless impracticable to do so makes it reasonably clear that it’s perfectly OK to ride out in the middle of the road lane in those situations where the bike lane is next to parked, parking and exiting cars. At least if traveling at speeds above walking pace. I agree with previous posts though. It usually results in a lot of anger and unpleasant profanity from drivers. It’s even resulted in drivers overtaking me and slamming the breaks in apparent revenge action a few times.


  1. Exit with care | Ride On

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