What do you get when you cross a bicyclist with a car door?

It's not a joke, but a common and serious danger to urban bicyclists. Dooring is a type of traffic accident in which a cyclist is struck by a car door being opened by the occupant of a parked car.

Bellingham is blessed with many visible and wide bike lanes, as well as many paths throughout Whatcom County that don't share the road with cars. As Bellingham grows, which it is doing currently at record pace, it's a safe guess that there will be more cars and bikes on the roads, and thus more chances for bikers to be seriously hurt. 

Dooring has caused 19.7% of all bicycle crashes, but like so many vehicle collisions, this one is largely due to human error, and is thus avoidable.

There's a law against dooring, meant to protect the more vulnerable bicycle rider:

RCW 46.61.620

Opening and closing vehicle doors.

No person shall open the door of a motor vehicle on the side adjacent to moving traffic unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so, and can be done without interfering with the movement of other traffic, nor shall any person leave a door open on the side of a vehicle adjacent to moving traffic for a period of time longer than necessary to load or unload passengers.

The responsibility largely rests on the car's occupant to make sure the roadway is clear before opening their door. Drivers and passengers, be sure to check for cyclists before you open your vehicle door. Cyclists aren't solely at the mercy of the vehicle's occupants, however, so here are a few tips on increasing your safety.

  • Give cars a wide berth, whether moving or parked. Experts recommend staying at least one meter away from parked cars. However, this presents a quandary for cyclists when traveling alongside moving traffic. Legislators are paying attention to bicyclist safety in creating laws for shared roadways.
  • Use your lights even during daylight to increase your visibility
  • Wear your helmet, even if it's not mandated, even if it messes up your hair. 

When a driver or passenger opens their door into the bike lane there is usually very little time for cyclists to react. Cyclists can try to brake or swerve, but this can be difficult when traffic is heavy; it can be nearly impossible if the biker is already in close proximity to the vehicle door.

Data released for the year 2012 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that 49,000 bicyclists were injured and 726 were killed in traffic crashes. In 2013, there were 1,325 vehicle-bicycle collisions in Washington State. 87 of these collisions resulted in serious injury and 11 resulted in death according to the Washington State Department of Transportation. As gas prices continue to steadily increase, and bike lanes become more available around our area, more people are choosing to ride bikes for their everyday commute.

Follow the law, and stay alert.  Avoid finding yourself in the situation of dooring someone or being doored!

 

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