Getting “Doored” While Riding Your Bike

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Getting doored happens when a motorist of a parked vehicle opens their car door in front of you just as you are riding by. The result can be catastrophic. Because you may be moving at speeds far greater than 15 miles-per-hour, going head-first into a stationary metal object can inflict serious damage. Common injuries include head, neck, and face trauma; broken collarbones, wrists, and arms; torn ligaments; severe lacerations; and road rash.

What to Watch Out For

It is California state law for motorists to refrain from opening their traffic-side doors if it impedes the flow of traffic, yet you cannot rely on drivers to always check their mirrors before doing so. As a result, you can be doored anytime you ride within distance of a car door, which is called the door zone. While the traffic to your left may be loud, fast, and intimidating, it is a bad habit to ride closer than four feet to the parked cars on your right. By riding farther left into the lane of traffic, you force the moving vehicles to give you more space. In general, riding more assertively is a safer practice than riding timidly. When motorists see you riding timidly it is easier for them to bully by not passing with enough space, cutting you off in intersections when you have the right of way, and pulling out in front of you from side streets.

Bike Lanes With Street-Side Parking Are One Big Door Zone

Since many bike lanes in California co-exist with street-side parking mere inches to the right, dooring is a big threat. You may feel more protected because of the bike lane, but it is crucial to never let your guard down. Giving yourself enough space may require you to ride to the very left-hand side of the bike lane on the white line, depending on how wide the bike lane is. Traffic passing on the left may be intimidating, and drivers may view you as hogging the road because in their minds there is a perfectly good bike lane that you should be riding in. Stay assertive and don’t let them intimidate you into riding in the door zone. Unfortunately, studies have shown that as traffic increases, cyclists tend to ride farther to the inside of the bike lane, putting them directly in the door zone.

Look for People Inside of Their Cars

Depending on the tint of the windows, you can often spot people sitting in their parked cars. As you are about to pass, look inside each parked car to make sure no one is about to step out. Be ready to take evasive action if you notice someone in their car. The best option is to move far out to the left, assuming that you are in a safe area and there is no traffic approaching, in which case moving to the left could be dangerous. If you aren’t already riding outside of the door zone, which in an ideal world you always are, then get out of it now. Slamming your brakes on in the last second likely will not stop you in time before colliding with a door. As always, be aware of traffic coming up from behind to avoid getting pinched between passing cars and car doors opening in front of you.

Stay at the Scene and Always Report the Incident

If you get doored, it is important to stay at the scene, call the police, and collect the motorist’s contact information. Do not assume you are uninjured and okay to ride away. The human body is designed to take flight when it is physically threatened or injured, and the wave of endorphins and adrenaline pumping through you will mask injuries and make you want to flee. Whenever you are involved in a motor-vehicle accident on your bike, follow these steps:

  • Call for medical assistance if needed, even if you are unsure
  • Call the police
  • Get contact information from the driver and write down their license plate number, their car make, and car model -they are not allowed to leave before the authorities arrive, and if they do
  • they will be committing a hit and run
  • Take pictures of your injuries, the scene of the crash, and any damages to your bike and equipment
  • Gather witness testimony and make sure you personally get their contact information. Do not assume the police will do this
  • Give your account of the accident to the police
  • Avoid argument or confrontation with the driver and police – rely on your attorney to seek retribution if need be

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