The Dutch Reach: Clever Workaround to Keep Cyclists from Getting “Doored”

Toronto "door prize" bike lanes by James Schwartz (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Bicycle lanes can be a boon for cyclists but they can also land riders in the “door zone,” a dangerous area sandwiched between primary vehicle lanes and parked cars. In the long term, cities may need to continue designing better solutions to accommodate bicyclists, but in the meantime: drivers could learn a thing or two from a practice found in Europe. Retired doctor Michael Charney calls it the “Dutch Reach” and it addresses a serious problem on the streets of America.

doorzoneThe phenomenon of bikers getting hit by an opening car door is so common it has its own term: dooring. According to a study in Chicago, as many as 1 in 5 bicycle accidents involve car doors – in total, there is an average of nearly one dooring per day in the Windy City. Even when bikers swerve to avoid doors, they can end up getting hit by cars. Separating bike lanes can work but it also takes time and money. In the meantime, there may be another path toward curbing this danger.

door-zone-illustration

For decades now in the Netherlands, many drivers have been trained (and tested for their licenses) on a behavior that dramatically reduces the risk of doorings. They do not even have a name for it because it is simply how one opens a car door. Basically, instead of using their door-side (left) arm, they reach over with their other (right) arm. This simple behavioral shift causes drivers to look back naturally and see whether or not there are oncoming bicyclists. When doctor Charney discovered that the Dutch have a solution to this problem, he became intrigued and ultimately started raising awareness of it in the United States.

“The Dutch Reach is a practice where instead of using your near hand — usually the driver’s left hand — to open your car door, you use your far hand. Your right hand,” Charney told The World. “In doing that, you automatically swivel your body. And you position your head and shoulders so you are looking directly out. First, past the rearview mirror. And then, you are very easily able to look back and see if there are oncoming bicycles or cars or whatever.”

The simplicity of the approach is part of its genius. It trades one basic habit for an easy alternative, a cheaper and faster fix than pricey and prolonged infrastructural overhauls.

Charney and other activists hope to spread the practice, helping to reduce accidents and make cycling lanes less stressful and dangerous places. In time, the “Dutch Reach” could also be integrated into drivers’ education in the US as it has been in the Netherlands.

Comments (45)

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  1. Ian

    Had a friend just pass her learners in B.C. (Canada). One of things she was tested on was this (she did it correctly).

  2. Roelof

    It’s weirder than that, as a Dutch person I was questioning myself if I used my right or left hand to open a door. Turns out, I use my left hand to grab the door handle and my right to actually open it.

    Thing is, my parents taught me that, it’s that common here and that’s exactly why it was so hard to realise how I open a car door.

    Then again, bicycles are a bit more common here, so it’s only to be expected.

  3. I got my driver’s licence in Italy three years ago and I was tested on this. Hopefully more and more countries join in on the practice.

  4. Leo

    I’m Dutch, have a driver’s license and have never ever heard of this. I just check my mirrors and look over my shoulder before I open the car door because that’s a sensible thing to do (especially in a crowded country with lots of cyclists).

    1. Elmar

      I’m Dutch and just got my license and I was taught to open doors exactly like mentioned in this article. Right hand and looking back.

    2. Paul

      It’s a shame there are so many people in the world that have no sense. Then there’s so many that don’t even care if they door someone or not!

    3. Albert Miner

      Around here it takes two to tango.
      Cyclists who persist in scorching car paint by riding the parking lane are bound to run into any door that cracks open to check for vehicles operating in the driving lane. And, of course, there’s the Trump driver who kicks the door open to get his fat ass out.

  5. Markus

    The first photo is of the bike lane on Hoskin Ave in Toronto, I bike this route almost every day. Since the photo had been taken the bike lane has been redesigned so that the parked cars are to the left of cyclists, and cyclists ride up against the sidewalk. I feel much safer with the lane oriented this way, and most new lanes in Toronto are now being designed as such.

  6. Jerome

    Or you could just look before opening your door. Check your mirrors, and look over your shoulder- it’s not that difficult. Or even open the door a crack then wait for a couple of seconds. At least then you give the cyclist a chance to respond. This idea that there needs to be a solution beyond people being less thoughtless is a strange one.

    The real solution to me seems to be for more people to use bicycles when they’re children, so that they have some understanding and empathy for the position that cyclists are in when they’re driving.

  7. Sam

    I’m Dutch. My parents taught me this and my grandparents taught me this. Yet I never notice I do it. I guess it’s baked into my system just like holding the door if someone is behind me; what would you think if the person you’re doing it for did the opposite thing?

  8. Great example of how one can learn of each other’s cultures. Indeed it’s so common in The Netherlands that it never came to mind that something like ‘dooring’ is a (serious) problem in other countries. Of course we Dutch tend to forget it now and then.. but because the chance of hitting almost hitting a bike is much bigger, we relearn our lesson quicker. ;-)

  9. Tafkan Afdan

    I’m Dutch. I cannot recall being tested for this. It’s more about being aware that there are cyclists around me. Secondly, here in Amsterdam the (a lot of) streets are being redesigned in such a way that there is a gap between the cars and bikelanes. So you cannot get doored.

  10. Linda

    Dutch person here: in the Netherlands you are taught to look out for cyclists, when parking, driving and as a pedestrian. When driving, we are taught to not only look in the mirrors but also to look over our right shoulder when taking turns etc. It’s a good article and nice you picked up on the differentiation. But we aren’t taught to use our right hand to open the door, we are taught to look, and as a result we swivel and open the door with the right hand. People can still be mindless if they are opening the door with their right hand, they should be taught to look while parking and driving. Though we have it easier, as everyone who drives is or has been a cyclist in their life.

  11. Christian

    What’s even more common in the Netherlands is separate bike lanes, so you haven’t got this problem. You have the road, parking space, some space to get out of the car, then a bicycle lane, some more extra space and then the space for pedestrians. It’s by far the safest way to separate traffic this way and then, as a car, you just have to check if there’s another car coming if you want to exit the car.

  12. Remko

    As the first video/GIF with the taxi shows this doesn’t only go for drivers, passengers should be just as careful.

  13. sun

    I admire your willingness to video tape yourself listening to the cop and being literal in your approach. Fuck! No helmet and pads! You sir a true a warrior to explain a ridiculous point the cop made.

  14. Arnie

    When I was young, bicyclists rode FACING traffic. This way, both they and drivers could see what was upcoming.

    1. Dragon Z

      “When I was young bicyclists rode FACING traffic.”

      No they most certainly did not. You’re thinking of pedestrians.

  15. Nigel Tolley

    The guy in the video up top kind of missed the important clue that the taxi was stopped, at a crossing. He should’ve stopped too, as it was obvious that either the door was about to open, or, worse, pedestrians were crossing!

    Got doored once. Car stopped suddenly in car lined narrow one-way street & passenger door was open before car stopped! Hit edge of door at low enough speed to remain on bike, but high enough to buckle front wheel. :-/

  16. Bill

    Not invented by Americans + requires habit change + state/municipal jurisdiction =
    VERY unlikely to be adopted widely in the US

  17. HK

    “It trades one basic habit for an easy alternative, a cheaper and faster fix than pricey and prolonged infrastructural overhauls.”

    But dooring isn’t the only problem that infrastructure fixes. Sure, this is a useful habit, but infrastructure is the solution, as a design site ought to be aware. People make mistakes, even when they have learned habits like this. You remove danger – and get more people taking up healthy, cheap, congestion-busting travel – by designing cycling into the road environment, so that mistakes by any party are much less likely to result in injury and death.

    Fundamentally, the bike lane in that first photo is a dangerous design mistake that this site should be condemning. People should not be cycling in the door zone, nor unprotected from moving traffic. People have died due to such bike lanes.

    1. S Santilli

      In many cities residents don’t own cars. Biking is an alternative and should be respected, just like walking from place to place. Not to mention the health benefits of exercise. Get with the program!!

  18. Manu

    Well first of all in Holland it’s not THAT necessary because in most places the bicycles paths are between the pavement and the line where car parks. So the issue is solved by design and it’s wonderful like that.

    I have also never heard of this but as stated earlier in the comments there are just so many bikes here that you’d never dare opening a door without watching.

    Which leads me to the conclusion that when bicycles will become more common in cities people will be more educated to it and more careful.

    For example, in Paris there are tons of motos and scooters riding between the cars, and most drivers pay attention to them in their mirrors. But in Holland, they don’t !

  19. Kratoklastes

    The only thing that will work is to make ‘dooring’ a strict-liability offence – like DUI and speeding: with both DUI and speeding, drivers are penalised just for increasing the likelihood that their driving harms others, whereas when they ‘door’ a cyclist, they have actually harmed someone else because of a stupid failure to check that it’s safe to exit their vehicle.

    The reason that only this will work, is that the vast bulk of people are too self-absorbed to consistently to act with regard to others; this is why you will see SUV’s with ‘baby on board’ stickers pull into an intersection and create gridlock, or tailgate, or fly past at 15km/hr over the speed limit… or ‘school moms’ who fly past my front door (again, in SUV ‘insecurity wagons’) at 70km/hr in a 40 zone – but who will tsk-tsk if anyone drives over 30 near their kids’ school.

    The only reason I would advocate for a government solution is that
    (a) you’re not allowed to beat the tar out of someone who doors (or nearly-doors) you; and
    (b) for most people the costs of suing somebody privately are ridiculous.

    Personally, I always get their registration numbers, get their details from our equivalent of the DMV, and send them a Statement of Claim for personal injury (including psychological injury).

    The moment the offender has to “lawyer up” to the level required to prepare a Defence (and/or counterclaim), you’ve already cost them about $3k. If they defend right up a hearing, it will cost them another $3k to get representation (you do NOT want to appear pro se if the applicant has representation).

    That’s $6k out of pocket before any judgement, and before any award of costs: if you defend a claim that clearly has no plausible defence, the very first thing a competent representative will do is ask the court to force the defendatn to bear the plaintiff’s costs – and courts are often amenable, given that the defence is wasting the court’s time.

    Sadly, for most cyclists that’s not an option because they will face the costs of preparing and lodging the claim, and costs of representation (if any) – and it’s a ‘coin toss’ as to whether their costs will be awarded. So they’re “costs/2” out of pocket (in expected-payoff terms) before the hearing.

    I have the good fortune to be able to pursue this strategy with a highly-asymmetric cost structure, because my partner is a barrister: she understands that people get killed by idiot drivers, and it is perfectly ethical for her to participate pro bono in attempts to impose significant costs on them. So my costs are always zero.

    I have done this twice, and won both times; we donate the proceeds to a no-kill animal shelter.

  20. chuck

    Good idea how ever, The U.S. has to have a form of Driver Education before this technique can be implemented into it. How are we going to get people to use there right hand to open the driver’s door when they can’t even use their left hand to turn on their turn signals? How about teaching the proper use of who has the right away at 4 way stops, to the US drivers, before we try something so complicated as opening the drivers door with the right hand.

  21. Ken

    In the U.S., driver’s education courses teach students to check rearview mirrors before opening doors. From a common sense perspective, it seems that bike lanes would ironically make doorings more likely. If a driver is used to opening his door into car traffic where a vehicle is likely to be coming, he will probably check. If he is used to opening it into a giant door-sized bike lane that is empty 99.5% of the time, he is much less likely to check.

  22. Frank

    Why make this a punishable offense? Why is it the driver’s responsibility exclusively? I have lived in two major US cities for a combined 20 years and have seen cyclists swirving in and out of traffic, running lights, etc. If someone innocently opens their door and A cyclist crushes it, why is the driver’s fault exclusively? I bike most places and I am very congnizant of my environment. Never had this problem. Aren’t there enough rules?

    1. Perry F. Bruns

      It could be treated like a regular collision, true, but it really depends on the circumstances. However, “Aren’t there enough rules?” is not really a question.

  23. Dennis

    Hi There, It’s funny to see that I (have been a dutchy for over 32 years) and never heared of the Dutch Move. I didn’t learned it anywhere. Only from a personal experience (a friend opens his door and had a women with a scooter hanging inside) i look over my shoulder when parking like that.

    I think they should start educating the Dutch of the Dutch way ;-)

  24. Helen Mclurg

    Having just been doored and discovered this name along with my bruises I think this is a great idea. By the way I was doored by a passenger opening onto a London blue cycle highway!

  25. Jeff

    This would work in places where there is a high frequency of cyclists, but I don’t think it would work in cities like mine (Dallas, TX), because most people live in suburban areas, and there is a low number of cyclists relative to cars.

    Even if you trained and tested new drivers to do this, they would only see a bicycle once out of 10,000 car trips, so the method would quickly be forgotten.

  26. Nick Kasoff

    When an adult ride a bicycle at normal speed, the right place to do that is in a traffic lane. There’s no way for the cyclist to know whether somebody is going to use the “Dutch reach” or just open the door and clobber him. So the only safe thing to do is stay out of the door zone.

    And by the way, it doesn’t matter if the bike lane is to the right of parked cars. You’ll be just as dead if a passenger opens a door and clobbers you.

  27. Buckminsterfullerene

    Simple car design change: Would it be beneficial to design the driver-side door handles (inside) to encourage using the right hand? (Opposite for passenger side, and rear doors too.)

    How? Perhaps shape the handle to feel comfortable for the intended hand, and/or slightly awkward otherwise.

    1. Buckminsterfullerene

      … arc the handle down, to favour the right hand? Change material softness/roughness?

      Design is hard: A person with a physical issue on right hand may be unable to use it in any case.

  28. Michaël

    Wow, I’m Dutch and I’ve never thought about this. I guess with bicycles being everywhere you just adapt to it. I do also check when I’m on the curbside though, what if you hit a pedestrian.

  29. Vera Laming

    I have been a driver in the Netherlands for over 10 years. Never ever heard of opening the door with your right.. I just look in the mirror and over my shoulder.

    Main reason why we have so little accidents is that every car driver started his or her ‘traffic career’ as a cyclist. So we are all aware of what is it like to cycle.

    This awareness is also reflected in our laws. As cyclists are the more vulnerable traffic users they are better protected in case of an accident (almost always the car driver should pay for damages).

  30. Ms Piggy

    My friend showed me this article yesterday following, as a motorcycle rider, I was “doored” yesterday by a vehicle passenger opening their door on me (clearly they had not looked as I ride with high visibility clothing and my headlight on). So, I certainly concur this must become the norm!
    I came out of the collision with some heavy bruising and a damaged motorcycle. I kept thinking it could have been a cyclist doored instead of me, they would have more than likely been injured more seriously than I was!

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