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Cycling's door zone of death

Date

On Your Bike

After wearing out his knees with basketball and running, Michael O'Reilly became yet another MAMIL (Middle-Aged Man In Lycra).

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Keep clear ... a cyclist avoiding the door zone.

Keep clear ... a cyclist avoiding the door zone. Photo: Ken Irwin

“The point of the door caught me just here,” the seasoned cyclist told me, prodding himself in the chest. “Broke two ribs, collapsed my lung, it was ages before I was back on the bike.”

“I was luckier,” said another old campaigner. “I hit the middle of the door, and wound up on the driver’s lap, jammed against the steering wheel.”

Not the kind of conversation you like to hear at dawn, just before going on your first club ride. I’d only been riding for a few months, and was new to the many dangers of cycling – especially riding on busy urban and suburban roads.

Any cyclist riding along a street lined with parked cars faces an unenviable choice. They can either ride well clear of the zone where car doors might open, possibly raising the ire of the motorists behind. Or they can hug the line of cars, giving motorists more space to pass – but risking their lives if it all goes wrong, as this alarming video shot in the US shows:

Many cyclists nevertheless see riding in the door zone as the lesser of two evils. “I keep a good eye out for anyone in a car who might be about to open a door,” they’ll say.

But keeping your eyes on the road while studying every parked car’s interior is extremely difficult at anything over trundling pace. Modern cars are hard to see into, with their louvered or tinted windows and multiple headrests. Sure, it’s easy to notice a car that’s just stopped – but what about a driver who stopped, then sat checking their phone messages before hurriedly flinging open the door without looking?

 “The leading cause of adult cycling hospitalisations and police reports is the car door,” says Patrick Jones, director of BikeWise, which runs courses in commuter cycling for the City of Sydney. Not only are cyclists injured by slamming into the door, they are often then catapulted into the street, to be run over by other cars.

Jones says the key is to choose the best position to cycle, depending on the road and traffic conditions, and riding both assertively and predictably, as demonstrated by a training video he made:

But is it legal to take the middle of the lane? The law says one must stay “as near as practicable to the far left side of the road” – a ruling that applies to cars as well.

“The door zone is not a practicable place to ride,” says Jones. “Certainly not at speed.”

And if a door is opened into a cyclist’s path, causing a collision, who is to blame? The law is unequivocal in this instance: people are obliged to open doors with care, and any resulting collision is the fault of the door opener.

Some years ago, my sister-in-law was involved in a dooring: but since she was in a car herself, all it caused was a lot of excitement for my young nephew, strapped into the back seat, and some annoying damage that was paid for by the door opener’s insurance.

There was never any question of who was to blame – but somehow, many people seem to assume that bicycles are second-class road users with a disproportionate responsibility for accidents.

This dooring issue has been a hot topic in Melbourne in recent weeks, with the identification of 10 roads where the majority of incidents take place, and a push by Bicycle Network Victoria to have fines for dooring offences increased.

Improved infrastructure, especially on roads favoured by cycle commuters, will help. And education of all motorists about the dangers of dooring is urgently needed.

But ultimately, a cyclist’s first approach, as a vulnerable road user, should be to look after themselves. If you're looking to upskill, there are courses offered, some of them free, in Sydney and in Melbourne.

So how much space should one leave when passing parked cars?

“We’ve got a chant for the kids,” says Jones. “The width of a door, and a little bit more.”

Stick to that, and avoiding a nasty dooring should be child’s play.

Have you been doored? How much effort do you make to stay out of the door zone?

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140 comments

  • “We’ve got a chant for the kids,” says Jones. “The width of a door, and a little bit more.”

    You encourage children to operate vehicles on the road?! That seems more than a little chancy....

    Commenter
    Donna Joy
    Date and time
    May 17, 2012, 12:36PM
    • Sure it's chancy, but the law obliges riders over 12 to get off the pavement and into the traffic, unless they're accompanying a rider under 12 or the pavement is explicitly marked for cyclist use.

      Sure, people ignore it, but either they're wrong to do so, or the law is wrong.

      Commenter
      stopthatastronaut
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      May 17, 2012, 3:47PM
    • It is illegal for children over the age of 12 to ride on footpaths, unless otherwise stated. There's more chance of hurting a pedestrian, as well as being hit by cars reversing out, than being "run over" riding on the street sensibly.

      Commenter
      Balanced
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      May 17, 2012, 3:58PM
    • Not 'chancie' at all.
      Risk management is paramount in all of our training courses.
      'chancie' would be ignoring training needs for road users.

      Commenter
      BikeWise- P. Jones
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      May 17, 2012, 3:59PM
    • I don't care what the law says
      The law will not feed my family if I am dead
      If a road is too dangerous to ride on, I will use the footpath.

      Commenter
      Anthony
      Location
      North Melbourne
      Date and time
      May 17, 2012, 4:30PM
    • They shouldn't be riding bikes on the road. It repeatedly causes accidents which would otherwise be avoidable.

      Commenter
      peter
      Location
      sydney
      Date and time
      May 17, 2012, 4:31PM
    • If they are 12 or older they are required by law to use the road.

      Commenter
      Poncho
      Location
      Blacktown
      Date and time
      May 17, 2012, 5:08PM
    • Peter, Anthony,

      Lobby the government if that's what you really believe. Personally, I worry more about clashes with pedestrians, mainly because they are less predictable in general than vehicle traffic - with exceptions, of course - and because I'd be the one doing the harm if I were to hit a pedestrian while on the footpath.

      If I'm on the road, I can take measures to avoid door zones and heavy traffic areas. If I'm on the pavement, it's hard to avoid a pedestrian who suddenly changes direction in front of me

      Commenter
      stopthatastronaut
      Date and time
      May 17, 2012, 5:13PM
    • oh, and peter...

      [citation needed]

      Commenter
      stopthatastronaut
      Date and time
      May 17, 2012, 5:15PM
    • Thanks guys.

      I had no idea that it was the law to have children ride on the road from age 12. Still seems a bit young to me personally, but it must have been legislated that way for a reason.

      Happy cycling, all!

      Commenter
      Donna Joy
      Date and time
      May 17, 2012, 5:39PM

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