Bicycle Network: Skill Up
Car door crashes
Anticipating is the key to avoiding the dangerous swerve
Opening a car door in the path of a cyclist is against the law. The Victorian road rules state:
"Rule 269. Opening doors and getting out of a vehicle etc...(3) A person must not cause a hazard to any person or vehicle by opening a door of a vehicle, leaving a door of a vehicle open, or getting off, or out of, a vehicle. Penalty: 2.5 penalty units."
Someone opening a car door unexpectedly in front of you can have disastrous consequences. The tips for avoiding this type of crash are the same for avoiding crashes in general - ride sensibly and conservatively to avoid dangerous or risky situations in the first place.
1. Ride predictably: Leave room to move
- Ride in a consistent, straight line.
- Don't weave in and out of car spaces and traffic.
- Don't ride fast into narrow spaces where you have little room for error.
- Don't ride between two vehicles unless there is room to swerve or time to stop.
- Ride out from the door zone - a car door is about 1.5m wide.
- If you don't have enough room to ride outside the door zone, slow down to a speed where you could stop in time.
2. Look & think ahead: Anticipate other people's actions
- Scan the interiors of parked vehicles for someone about to exit. If there is someone there, get ready to stop, or look for a space to swerve out of the way.
- Be especially wary when passing cars to the left or kerb side when they have stopped at intersections, as passengers may be about to exit them.
- Look for brake lights that are lit up (an indication that they've just pulled up).
- At night, look out for the interior light going on or off.
- Look ahead for drivers parking their cars.
Listen for the telltale click of an opening door: if you can hear it, you're too close.
It's also wise to select a route that other cyclists frequently use and one that avoids narrow roads with fast moving traffic and parked cars. Look for wide roads with slow moving traffic (preferably with bike lanes), or narrow roads with slow moving traffic.
3. Assume they haven't seen you
- Ride conservatively and give yourself time and room to avoid a crash or sticky situation.
- Wear bright clothes and flashing lights but remember that most drivers are looking primarily for cars.
- Assume they have not seen you until you have made eye contact, and even then, be wary.
4. Ride according to the conditions
- If it's wet or dark, slow down. If it's fine and bright, don't go too fast. Simple.
"I knew they were going to do it..."
So what do you do if you see a car door about to be opened in front of you?
- Ring your bell. Sometimes this is enough to stop someone opening a door further. (Bells are a requirement as part of the road rules for bikes).
- If you are really close, try a loud 'Hey!', but only as a last resort.
- Failing that, just slow down and stop if necessary.
The last point sounds simple, but so few people seem prepared to do it. Stop, smile at the driver. In most cases they have not realised what they have done and are apologetic. If they have not realised then politely point it out to them.
Don't start an argument - experience suggests that people rarely win arguments about another person's driving skills on the roadway. Just point out their mistake and ride on when the opportunity arises.
The idea is to promote good behaviour and you can start with your own. If you are courteous and calm then you are more likely to get a similar response.
What to do if the worst happens
If you are confronted by the unexpected car door, here are some tips:
- Hit the brakes. Use the rear (left) brake slightly before the front to avoid going over the handlebars.
- Pick your line and stick to it.
Hitting a car door hurts - a lot. Getting run over by a truck hurts even more. If worst comes to worst, you may be better to brace yourself and hit the door rather than lose control and end up under a motor vehicle.
One advantage of hitting a door (as opposed to a moving vehicle) is that they tend to funnel you in towards the car. If you can, 'decide' how you are going to crash then you may be able to avoid the hardest part of the car door (the end, which is all metal), rather than the inside, which is upholstered.
If you do have a crash
- Try to stay calm and keep your wits about you.
- Write down the particulars of the crash as soon as possible, even if it is from the hospital bed.
- Record the name and license number of other parties, registration number of the vehicle, names and details of witness and whatever you can remember of the details of the crash. Sign and date the record. Get it witnessed, as it may be useful later if there is a dispute over the crash.
- Report the crash to the police.
- If in Victoria, contact the Transport Accident Commission (TAC) (ph 9663 7500 or 1800 332 556) as a car door crash is classified as a crash involving a motor vehicle in the act of driving under the relevant Act. (Thank Bicycle Network Victoria for this inclusion.)
- Contact Bicycle Network Victoria for any out-of-pocket expenses you may have after a crash. Our Member bike crash insurance can cover Members' costs associated with damage to another person's property, your property (including your bike) or injuries you may sustain (conditions apply). Even if you're not yet a Member we may still be able to help you.