Here's Why You Should Never Open Car Door With Left Hand
The "Dutch reach," or opening the door with your right hand, could save lives—so why don't we teach it in America?
Catherine Marucci

In the Netherlands, 36% of people use their bicycles as their primary mode of transportation. In the United States, less than 10% of people use a bike as a means of transport.

So, why are there more cyclists injured in the United States than the Netherlands per year?

parked car
oops_error_404_via Flickr
oops_error_404_via Flickr

Although Americans are encouraged to be cognizant of how their vehicle operation can affect motorcycles, watching for a bicyclist is something most forget about. However, you can injure a cyclist even when the vehicle is not in motion.

One of the most common ways this is happening is dooring.

What is dooring?

Dooring, when a cyclist runs into a carelessly opened vehicle door, is not as rare as you think. It is especially rampant in large cities such as New York and Chicago where bicyclists and cars share the same crowded roads.

A 2011 report found that in the city of Chicago, 1 in 5 bicycle crashes or 1 crash per day, were because a passenger or driver opened a vehicle door into the path of a cyclist.

car door
chrisf608 via Flickr
chrisf608 via Flickr

If a cyclist is sandwiched between two cars, they have no choice but to hit a stationary car or car door. If they are not between two objects, they run the risk of swerving into the path of oncoming traffic.

In New York City, there are about 336,000 people per day who use cabs. That is 336,000 chances for a biker to have a door opened in their path of travel. Both Chicago and New York have laws that hold the person in the vehicle responsible for these accidents, and although this has helped reduce the number of incidents, citizen awareness needs to increase as well.

According to the Boston Globe, In 2002, 36-year-old Dana Laird was the victim of a fatal dooring incident. While she was riding her bike in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a motorist opened the door of an SUV.

Laird was traveling in the direction of the open door and swerved to avoid it. She lost control and was struck by a transit bus. Two lives were negatively impacted that day, and one was lost.

roeyahram via Flickr
roeyahram via Flickr

A simple method of prevention

What are the Dutch doing that Americans aren’t? Take a minute and picture yourself behind the wheel of a car or in any of the passenger seats. Now, imagine yourself getting ready to exit the vehicle.

Which hand are you using to open the door? Most likely it is the hand closest to the door. After all, this is a natural movement. By reaching with the same side hand, your body stays squared and forward facing.

But, by reaching with the opposite hand, your body must turn, causing you to look behind you. Even if you do not make a conscious effort to do so, you have a good chance of picking up a biker with your peripheral vision.

This simple maneuver is referred to as the “Dutch reach.” Since cycling is such a huge part of their culture, they do this just as fluidly as the average American driver reaches with their same side hand. This has helped reduce injury and fatalities resulting from dooring.

Next time you are driving, whether in a busy city or a rural area, practice the Dutch reach. This way it becomes a habit. It may save a life!

Dim Lamp via Flickr
Dim Lamp via Flickr

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