Cycling Legalese: The Door Zone
Cycling 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.
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.
Cycling Legalese Question Submission Form: