Every morning, Monday through Friday, millions of Americans get in their cars for their weekday work commute. Between cell phones, radios, construction, and other drivers, dangerous driving is all too uncommon. Car doors, in particular, are most dangerous. Seems silly, no? How can a car door be dangerous? Well, while some commuters get into a car, others hop on a bicycle and cycle to work. Since cyclists occupy the same roads as the moving cars, they are forced to be sandwiched between parked cars on the street. This risky sandwich places cyclists at a greater risk of being struck by a car door.
Let’s set the scene: You’re in your car collecting your various things needed for the day. Women will often look through their purse to reapply makeup or check their phone. Men may be distracted by a work email or phone call. In a hurry and without thinking, you throw open your car door with your driver’s side left hand. Due to distractions, you failed to see a cyclist that was only about 3-5 cars back before you swung your door open. With traffic on their left and your door right in their direct line of path, they have nowhere to go. The cyclist either slams into your door or into you and a collision occurs.
This is so common that it actually has a name: dooring.
A 2011 report, which looked at the rate of ‘dooring’ in Chicago, found that at least one ‘dooring’ accident occurred once a day in one year’s time. Only one in five accidents were reported. In an effort to lower ‘dooring’ accidents, New York City has launched an initiative to raise awareness. The campaign is aimed at both taxi passengers and cyclists. An advertisement sticker “LOOK! For Cyclists!” is in all 13,000 citywide cabs. Chicago, despite the 2011 report, declined to participate in a similar measure.
In New York City, there are about 336,000 cab passengers every day. However, nearly 250,000 passengers use Uber or Lyft, which do not have the stickers on their vehicles. Even with the efforts of cab drivers, cities are still struggling to raise awareness to this very serious issue. So how can cities big and small alike help encourage awareness? 99% Invisible, an Urban Design blog is trying to help. It’s very common for drivers and passengers to open the door with their driver side left hand. So what does 99% Invisible propose? Why it’s simple! Open the door with your right hand.
This simple, but effective tip hails from the Netherlands. Affectionately called, “The Dutch Reach”, here in the United States, the method has been extremely effective. Intuitively, drivers and passengers want to open the door with their left hand. However, by opening the door with your right hand will cause a natural chain of reaction movements that could save a life. As you reach with your right hand, your upper body will naturally pivot. Your line of sight will pass your rearview mirror and then out to the street behind you. If you are a passenger, reach with your driver side right hand. The trick is using the hand furthest from the door handle.
This method is so effective at preventing cyclist and parked car accidents in the Netherlands that it doesn’t even have a special name. For decades drivers and passengers alike have been taught to open their door with their furthest hand. The Netherlands is notoriously biker friendly, which explains the natural inclination to utilize this method. You can learn more about the Dutch reach here.
It will take some time before Americans begin to use this method. The driving loving country is not exactly keen to cyclists. Most cities are just barely biker friendly and are often met with contempt and even aggression from drivers in their vehicles. Cyclists often complain of blocked bike lanes due to construction and misplaced debris. Whatever your feelings on cycling are, remember that they are a person, too. Not only is cycling a fun and easy way to get around, consider just how great it is for your overall health. The increase in cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength, improvements in joint mobility, and decrease in stress levels are just some of the benefits.
Even if you don’t plan to cycle to work or around town anytime soon, please be mindful of cyclists. Another easy way to remember the Dutch Reach is, “Reach, Look, Swivel, Open”. This is an easy way to remember all the motions involved in the Dutch Reach. While it may be difficult for adults to effectively implement this new reach, parents of new drivers can instill this in their driving lessons. The reason why the Dutch so easily and effortlessly use this method is because they were taught that way. They have been doing the “Dutch Reach” for as long as anyone can remember.
This style of reach brings a whole new meaning to the phrase, ‘going Dutch’. Why not go Dutch today? Cyclists everywhere will be forever thankful for your new reaching style.