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.
The 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.
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.”
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.