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Jun 8, 2022

6 min. read

Most people don't think about the way they open a car door. But how you exit your vehicle could severely impact a cyclist.

The reason? If you mistakenly hit a rider as you open your door, which is known as dooring, it could send them careening into traffic with potentially harmful consequences.

“Any collision, even a minor one, could be fatal,” says Const. Sean Shapiro of the Toronto Police Service. “You can't predict what kind of injury will result.”

Use the Dutch Reach

With the cycling season in full swing, Shapiro and other officers are urging motorists to use a novel technique to exit vehicles. It's called the Dutch Reach and it encourages drivers to use their right hand—passengers should use their left hand—to open their doors.

The cross-body motion forces you to turn towards your blind spot, helping you see oncoming traffic, including cyclists.

The manoeuvre, which is popular in the Netherlands, is key to preventing collisions between cyclists and car doors.

Dooring penalties

Last year, 52 incidents were reported to Toronto police. And eight have been reported so far in 2022.

Along with the dire consequences for cyclists—an Ottawa woman was killed in a dooring incident in 2011—the penalties for hitting a bicyclist with a door are steep. You face a $365 fine and three demerit points if convicted.

Driver diligence

To help keep riders safe, Shapiro, who hosts a traffic safety show on social media, urges motorists to avoid rushing to exit vehicles—especially if you’re carrying multiple items—and to look twice.

“You need to look again. It's not one and done,” he says. “Things are constantly coming into your space.”

Tips for cyclists

Given that relatively few motorists practice the Dutch Reach, Erin Urquhart, a parking enforcement officer, says cyclists must be vigilant.

Urquhart focuses her efforts on cycling safety and education while enforcing Toronto parking laws on her own bicycle.

She recommends scanning for heads inside of parked vehicles and remaining alert if you see any.

“My advice, and it's always worked for me even when I'm riding outside of work, is you really do have to be more aware,” Urquhart says.

Cyclists should give themselves some distance from parked cars and travel slowly enough so they can react to an opening door.

“As you’re riding, you have a lot of work to do,” says Shapiro. “The person with the most control over their outcome is going to be the rider themselves.”

But practicing the Dutch Reach should be part of a bigger effort by drivers and cyclists to do everything they can to protect each other, says Shapiro. “Traffic safety is a joint responsibility. We want everyone, especially vulnerable road users, to get home safe.”

Ride safe

It’s important to share the road to ensure the safety of all users. Visit caasco.com/cycling to learn more about CAA’s cycling safety efforts.

Image credit: Giordano Poloni

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