It’s called getting doored. And it hurts.
Imagine that a cyclist is riding along calmly when an unsuspecting driver or passenger opens their door. The cyclist has little to no time to adjust, sending them crashing into or over the door.
It happened to longtime cyclist Derek Cuellar of New York on Sept. 23, 2016.
“A man opened his door right as I was passing and I ran directly into the door,” Cuellar said over email. “My bike suffered minor scratches as my handlebar and shoulder took most of the damage.”
Despite a bruised shoulder and dinged-up bike, Cuellar was able to continue his commute that day. And while getting doored is a painful rite of passage for many urban cyclists, it doesn’t mean it’s not a life-threatening issue.
Cuellar is one of more than the estimated 50,000 cyclists who will be injured on the road this year.
That number may be even higher; hospital records indicate that only a small percentage of bicycle-accident-related injuries are reported or recorded by police. In the U.S., more than 700 cyclists die in accidents with motor vehicles each year.
It’s scary. It’s tragic. And in many cases, it’s preventable.
But there’s an easy way for drivers and cyclists to share the road, and it’s called the Dutch Reach.
Popularized in the Netherlands, where cyclists make up 30% of daily commuters, the Dutch Reach is a concept taught in Dutch driver education, and it’s an easy adjustment that could save a life.
If you are a driver or driver-side passenger in a right-side-of-the-road country, you probably naturally open the door with your left hand. However, with the Dutch Reach, you reach across your body to open the door with your right hand, which momentarily forces your body to turn and face backward. If you’re getting out on the passenger side, simply open the door with your left hand instead of your right.
That simple twist allows you to see cyclists, cars, or pedestrians you may have otherwise missed. The maneuver make take a few repetitions to get used to, but a little awkwardness is worth it to prevent a potentially catastrophic accident.
If anyone knows about sharing the road, it’s the Dutch.
Cycling has long been a popular form of transportation in the Netherlands. But as cars boomed in popularity in the 1950s and ’60s, cyclists were quite literally pushed aside. Cars edged out bicyclists (on roads that were not built for automobile traffic) pushing riders toward curbs, resulting in thousands of collisions.
In 1971 alone, 3,300 people, including more than 400 children, were killed in bicycle accidents in the Netherlands. People took to the streets to protest the senseless incidents. This coupled with the oil crisis of 1973 led to serious changes in transportation policies across the small nation.
Slowly, progress was made. Car-free Sundays eventually led to car-free city centers and eventually the dedicated cycle routes many Dutch cities are known for. Today around 180 people are killed in cycling accidents in the Netherlands each year. Considering that residents bike more than 500 miles per year on average, the figure (while devastating) is surprisingly low.
Drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians need to share the responsibility of keeping our roads safe.
Cyclists don’t always obey traffic laws and sometimes go dangerously slow or fast in areas they shouldn’t. But drivers aren’t guilt-free in this regard, either. Parking and driving in bike lanes, shifting without signaling, and driving while distracted or at dangerous speeds make cycling a risky proposition.
Whether you’re on two wheels, four, or in a fresh pair of Keds, all of us need to pay attention, watch where we’re going, and look out for one another. On the road and in life, we’re all in this together.