We can all agree: dooring is the worst. It’s the crash that comes out of nowhere and packs a serious punch. Unpredictable and ruthlessly efficient, it’s no wonder that dooring is often called “the Spanish Inquisition of bicycle crashes.”
Fortunately, dooring a cyclist is illegal in nearly every state with comprehensive bike laws on the books. In MA, General Law Ch. 90 § 14 says that “No person shall open a door on a motor vehicle unless it is reasonably safe to do so without interfering with the movement of other traffic, including bicyclists and pedestrians.” There is similar language in California, Florida, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Missouri, and many others (check your local listings).
Because of these laws, a dooring in these states is pretty much automatically the driver’s fault. Always. Keep this in mind when you’re lying on the ground and the tortfeasor starts yelling at you about what you did to the door of his Lexus (this actually happened to one of my clients).
But no matter who’s at fault, dooring is still the worst. So what can you do to prevent it from happening? I’ve heard many veteran cyclists boast that they’re able to anticipate a car door opening, and can react accordingly to avoid the impending crash.
They’ll suggest, “You just need to look into the cars as you pass them,” or “Look for brake lights—that means a driver is in the car, and they may be getting out,” or “I always look at their side view mirrors as I approach.”
Unfortunately, this advice is sorta crap.
Though it all seems eminently reasonable at first glance, to rely entirely upon such methods is folly. That’s because they all require you to keep your attention focused on something that’s outside the flow of traffic.
As bikers, we need to simultaneously pay attention to cars and pedestrians and traffic signs and painted lines and stoplights and turn signals and potholes and other bikers—we simply can’t afford to devote so much of our focus to a non-traffic variable.
Think of the thousands of parked cars that you pass on an average ride. It’s just not possible to look into each one of them as you go by. That’s the problem: No matter how vigilant you are, there will always be times when the traffic around you requires your attention. And that’s when the door will open.
Short of riding on the sidewalk, there is only one reliable way to actively avoid being doored: you must learn to maintain an awareness of the door zone as you ride.
The “door zone” is the area approximately three to five feet to the left of a parked car that its open door would occupy. By visualizing the door space next to cars while riding, and monitoring your position in it, you can keep yourself out of harm’s way while still paying attention to the rest of traffic around you. It becomes like an invisible, negative bike lane that you learn to ride outside of.
Unfortunately, the door zone cannot be avoided entirely. There will always be situations where traffic requires you to dip into the line of fire. However, keeping yourself aware of the zone’s confines will allow you to minimize the time that you spend there. By minimizing your exposure, you can maximize the time you spend outside of an ambulance. That means more time for biking—it’s a win win.
Don’t let the door hit ya!
PS: One more thing—when it comes to managing your time in the door zone, always treat a taxi as though its doors are already open. Cabs have the worst insurance and their passengers never pay attention. In fact, that’s why we’re working with the Mayor’s office to get stickers like these inside the windows of Boston taxis. It won’t prevent every dooring, but it just might prevent yours.