Urban Velo

Cycling Legalese: The Door Zone

bkevinidesCycling Legalese is our online cycling law column from everyday cyclist and Chicago based injury lawyer, Brendan Kevenides.

Getting doored is one of the more frightening and painful scenarios a cyclist may face. Along with the lgal side of things, Brendan has some tips to avoid it all together.

Q: The other day I was nearly doored by a driver. When I stopped the driver said that I should be paying more attention. What’s up with that?

Brendan Kevenides, P.C.:Talk to your non-biking friends and family about “dooring” and many, perhaps most, will give you a blank stare. Yet, few things scare urban bicyclists more than the threat of being doored. The possibility of a heavy metal wall suddenly appearing in front of you is terrifying. By far the most common types of crashes I see in my bike law practice are dooring incidents. The injuries are often gruesome; broken bones, deep and damaging lacerations. In Chicago in September, 2012 a young attorney was crushed by a large truck after veering to his left to avoid a car door thrown open into his path as he rode in a dedicated bicycle lane. These frightening possibilities are often in the back of the urban cyclists mind. But for the non-biking public this serious safety threat barely registers. Many do not even recognize the term dooring. As I type this column on my MacBook the word is continuously underlined in red. Do you mean “dooming.”

Dooring is the act of opening a car door into an oncoming cyclist. It is illegal everywhere. Section 22517 of the California Motor Vehicle Code is typical of the law in most of the U.S. It states:

Opening and Closing Doors

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

If a driver doors a bicyclist, that driver is legally in the wrong. Drivers everywhere are required to look before opening a door and if they cannot do so without endangering another person they must wait until the danger has passed. Period. If a driver injures a bicyclist by opening their door he or she will be held liable for the resulting harm.

There are things a cyclist can do to reduce the chances of getting doored:

Don’t ride too closely to parked vehicles: This can be tricky. Your ability to ride outside of the dooring zone will depend upon the amount of space between parked vehicles and moving vehicles. That space will depend on factors such as whether the roadway contains a shoulder or bicycle designated lane. If conditions permit, you should ride at least three feet away from parked vehicles. Doing so will probably not take you out of the door zone (the average car door is nearly 5 feet wide), but it should help you swerve to avoid contact with a swung open door.

Light up & announce yourself: To help avoid a dooring at night you should ride with a blinking yellow or white light mounted on the front of your bicycle or person. A blinking light will help distinguish you from all of the other sources of illumination that exist in an urban setting. With a light, those drivers who do choose to look before opening their doors will have sufficient warning of your presence. Also, when riding day or night, if you see a door creeping open don’t be shy about giving a loud holler to the doorer (doorist?). Do whatever you can to announce your presence.

Look for signs: There are tell tale signs that a door is about to open into your path. Look inside the vehicles ahead of you. Look for figures moving inside that mean that the vehicle is occupied. Look in the side view mirror. You may be able to see the driver of the car, and whether he or she is looking at you.

Give taxis a wide berth: When at all possible just stay the hell away from taxi cabs. Exiting passengers rarely have mirrors with which to see an oncoming bicyclist, and few will crane their necks to look before opening the door. Any stopped taxi is a dooring incident waiting to happen. If at all possible swing way wide of them. There are efforts underway to educate taxi cab passengers about the dangers they may pose to cyclists. In New York City, the DOT and Taxi and Limousine Commission announced in the fall of 2012 that taxis will have decals reminding passengers to look before disembarking. Cabs with video screens will also show brief videos educating passengers about dooring.

Control your speed: Alter your speed based upon the risk posed from dooring. If you are riding through a tight spot with numerous parked cars to your right, slow down. Sometimes you just will not have the space to swerve away from an opening door and you will need to stop to avoid a collision. Be aware of the potential for danger and act accordingly.

Educate and organize: Long term it is important that the dangers of dooring move from the bicycling community and into the general public’s consciousness. Talk to your non-cycling friends and family members. Make sure they know what it is and how serious the consequences can be. In Chicago, following the deadly dooring incident in September, a group called LOOK! Chicago was created by local cycling enthusiasts with the goal of promoting awareness and educating the City of Chicago to the dangers of car doors. (Full disclosure: I am a member). Recently the group conducted its first “Safety Blitz,” taking to the streets using fliers and old fashioned conversation to educate people about dooring. There can be a LOOK! Pittsburgh, a LOOK! San Francisco, a LOOK! Austin. It is up to you to get it rolling.

Dooring usually ends badly. That obvious fact noted, always ride relaxed. Riding in constant fear of what could or may happen is no fun and will probably increase your chances of getting into some sort of crash. Excessive fear tends to lead to bad decision making on the road. However, you should ride aware of the dangers that exist. By doing so you will likely enjoy a lifetime of safe, fun urban cycling.

—Disclaimer—
Nothing contained in this column should be construed as legal advice. The information contained herein may or may not match your individual situation. Also, laws differ from place to place and tend to change over time. No reader should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information presented herein without seeking the advice of an attorney in the relevant jurisdiction. This column is meant to promote awareness of a general legal issue. As such, it is meant as entertainment. It does not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader.
—Disclaimer—

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About Brendan Kevenides, P.C.

Brendan Kevenides is an everyday city cyclist and licensed attorney. His Chicago law practice is dedicated to representing cyclists injured by the negligence of drivers, government officials and equipment manufacturers. He is also the creator and author of The Chicago Bicycle Advocate, a popular blog about bicycling and the law. He is active with bicycle advocacy organizations, and is a Certified Bicycle Instructor by the League of American Bicyclists. Check out www.mybikeadvocate.com

View all posts by Brendan Kevenides, P.C. →

7 Comments

  1. SmittyMarch 5, 2013 at 2:36 pm

    “When at all possible just stay the hell away from taxi cabs.” Best advice I’ve heard all day!

  2. Chris G.March 5, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    Dooring is not illegal everywhere. In fact here in Virginia, the legislature just killed a bill that would have made it illegal.

    More info in this article.
    http://www.theatlanticcities.com/commute/2013/01/virginia-thinks-drivers-should-be-able-door-bikers-without-penalty/4490/#

  3. L. M. LloydMarch 6, 2013 at 5:59 am

    Things are getting better, at least here in L.A., as far as getting doored goes. I remember the first time I got doored, back when I was a teenager, everyone involved gave me a long “why don’t you watch where you are going” lecture. In contrast, a few years ago, my wife got doored in front of a shopping center, and not only did a supportive crowd gather to make sure she was ok, and stay as witnesses to what happened, but when the cops showed up (someone was so worried about her they called 911), the cops went right after the driver, and made it very clear that they weren’t going to buy any of her excuses.

    In fact, the cops went to great lengths to make sure the driver knew that my wife was in every way obeying the law, and that the accident was entirely the driver’s fault. They even gave the driver some kind of ticket (though I don’t know for what offense) and the driver’s insurance covered all medical bills. It was quite a refreshing surprise, because I immediately flashed back to that teenage accident, and half assumed the cops would be on the driver’s side. They did the right thing though. A very rare credit to LAPD.

  4. Brendan KevenidesMarch 6, 2013 at 10:28 am

    Chris,

    Thank you for bringing Virginia to my attention. That is disappointing to learn. However, statute or no, all drivers (in fact, all roadway users) have a common law duty to to exercise reasonable care to avoid harming another road user. Statutes, like the one I cited from California, are a mere codification of this common law duty. Statutes which reflect a duty that already exists are generally placed on the books (1) to offer greater clarity, (2) to send a political message that certain behavior is particularly frowned upon, and (3) to provide for a criminal penalty. A failure to look for cyclists before opening one’s car door which causes injury is always negligent and actionable, at least in the civil court system. Dooring is not “legal” in Virginia just because there is no statute. I would file a lawsuit every day of the week in Virginia against a driver that doored and injured a cyclist, and expect to win it, even absent a statutory provision which explicitly outlaws it.

  5. Bike Pittsburgh | Week’s Links: 3.8.13March 8, 2013 at 11:20 am

    [...] Urban Velo provides the legal answers to the question: The other day I was nearly doored by a driver. When I stopped the driver said that I should be payin… [...]

  6. SimonMarch 14, 2013 at 7:28 am

    Re your advice on how to avoid being doored – why not just say “ride out of the door zone, which is usually about 5 foot”. If this puts you in the general traffic lane, so be it – it’s safer than being in the door zone.

  7. Team Lope Tyre Clubbe » A Collection of Handy Legal Tips for RidersApril 26, 2013 at 11:49 am

    [...] And finally, related to the above, yes, if a motorist doors you, they are in the wrong. But it pays to not be doored in the first place. http://urbanvelo.org/cycling-legalese-the-door-zone/ [...]

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