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By Spencers Solicitors

  Steven Barke    
  June 19, 2019

Could ‘Dutch Reach’, reduce the numbers of bicycle accident casualties in the UK?

As bicycle accident compensation experts, Spencers Solicitors have recovered many thousands of pounds worth of personal injury compensation for clients involved in non-fault cycling accidents. These have included a real mixture of accident circumstances being the cause of accident, including on a number of occasions, the type of cycling accident that is the subject of this article.

Bicycle Accident

The vulnerability of cyclists to being seriously injured whilst travelling on our roads in the UK, is never more apparent than in the case of ‘car dooring’ which is often referred to simply as, ‘dooring.’

What is ‘dooring’?

The clue, as they say, is in the name. It happens when the occupant of a motor vehicle blithely opens their door into the path of a passing cyclist, without properly looking before doing so. A careless act, that if involving a passing motor vehicle, would at worst be likely to result in bent metal damage and upset drivers. When this happens to a cyclist, the end result can be a very serious, or sometimes even, a fatal injury.

‘Dooring’ can happen on either side of the motor vehicle, and is not caused just by drivers or offside rear passengers opening their doors. Front and nearside rear passengers of cars that are parallel parked particularly in the heavy traffic of busy urban roads, can cause collisions with cyclists going past vehicles on their nearside, if the car passenger opens the door without thinking. Passengers alighting from both sides of taxis present a very real danger to passing cyclists too. The same applies to the lines of vehicles that pull up outside schools every morning and afternoon to drop off and pick up children, on the school run.

Is dooring illegal?

Yes, and it is so, by virtue of The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986. Regulation no 105 states;

‘No person shall open, or cause or permit to be opened, any door of a vehicle on a road so as to injure or endanger any person.’

The penalty for anyone convicted of this offence is £1000 with no penalty points.

Rule 239 of the Highway Code states that:

“you MUST ensure you do not hit anyone when you open your door. Check for cyclists or other traffic”

So, dooring is illegal. The Highway Code also makes it obligatory to ensure that you do not hit anyone whilst opening a vehicle door. It does not though mention any specific method about how the door should be opened to ensure that you achieve this in a safe manner. For the offence proscribed by the Road Vehicles Regulations 1986, the MAXIMUM penalty is £1000. If a cyclist is killed as a result of a car door being opened into his or her path, then the offender will still only be fined a maximum of £1000.

This is the criminal law in practice. A conviction against the driver or passenger that caused the dooring accident in a criminal court, does not prevent a cyclist injured in this way from making a civil, bicycle accident compensation claim which will enable the cyclist (or in the case of a fatal accident, the cyclist’s next of kin) to pursue compensation against the insurer of the driver or passenger who carelessly opened the vehicle door, as the cyclist was approaching. In case you were wondering – most insurance policies will usually cover negligent acts carried out by passengers in the vehicle. So, if you as a cyclist are injured by a passenger opening a car door into your path, you may still bring a bike accident claim against the passenger and expect to be paid out by the insurer of the vehicle’s owner, upon successful conclusion of your bicycle compensation claim.

Surely, the prevention of ‘dooring’ accidents involving cyclists, is better than the cure of being able to claim compensation when they do happen?

Of course. Whilst it is reassuring to know that there are specialists in cycling accident compensation claims like Spencers Solicitors on hand to help you recover compensation after a cycling accident, wouldn’t it be better if the government did something to reduce the number of dooring accidents in the first place?

Cycling UK carried a report on figures released by the Department for Transport which showed that between 2011 and 2015, just over 2000 cyclists were injured as a result of car doors being negligently opened into their path. Five deaths were included in these figures. As all incidents of dooring do not get reported to the police, the actual instances of negligent vehicle door opening by drivers and passengers, are likely to be significantly higher.

The criminal law penalties, limited as they are, do not seem to be acting as a sufficient deterrent. Perhaps education of motor vehicle occupants as to the dangers posed by the careless opening of car doors could be more effective in the reduction of this type of cycling accident?

The Dutch Reach method of opening car doors

Campaigners for the reduction of road traffic accidents have a hard task trying to run successful campaigns to try and alter the mindset of road users – old habits and all that. In saying that we do not wish to demean the outstanding efforts of campaign groups such as RoSPA, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. Indeed, it is this charity that has for some years been advocating the adoption of the practice of the Dutch Reach as a safe method for the opening of vehicle doors to try and prevent accidents to passing cyclists and motorcyclists.

The Dutch Reach method is very simple. Instead of a vehicle occupant opening the door with their hand that is nearest to the door handle, they open the door with the hand furthest from it. By adopting this method, it initiates a series of five linked actions:

  • Reach
  • Swivel
  • Look back
  • Open slowly
  • Exit facing traffic

The practice requires you to reach across your body, thus causing the body to swivel. The motion allows you to look through the rear-view mirror then out to the side and by swivelling too, it is easy to look over your shoulder out of the window and check that it is safe to continue opening the door. This method of opening the door provides extra safety not just for any cyclists nearby but for the vehicle occupants themselves, by reducing the risk of the door being hit or even ripped off by passing vehicles.

Dutch Reach to be incorporated in a revised Highway Code

The campaigning of RoSPA and other groups appears to be gaining some traction in relation to the adoption of the Dutch Rule in a formal format. Towards the end of 2018, the Government announced that the safe door opening technique will be added to an updated version of the Highway Code. So far it has not been revealed whether the addition will be made into an enforceable offence. For individual Highway Code rules to be capable of being enforced by law, specific wording must be used – the words MUST or MUST NOT, must preface the rule. In the alternative if the wording is merely that the policy SHOULD be adopted, then it is not capable of being enforced in law.

It is to be hoped that the Dutch Reach method will be adopted as a MUST rule in the revised Highway Code. Any considered measure that goes towards reducing road traffic accidents has to be a positive step forward. Accidents caused by the careless opening of a vehicle door should be wholly avoidable. At the moment it is too easy for drivers and passengers simply to fling open a door without thinking. By making it an enforceable rule that the Dutch Reach has to be used it will force car occupants to stop and think. Over time this eminently sensible method of door opening will, as a matter of course, become second nature, in the same manner that always wearing a seatbelt has become.

If you have been injured in a bicycle accident that wasn’t your fault, whether as a result of ‘dooring’ or in any other way, then contact our highly experienced bicycle accident claims team at Spencers, on 08000 93 00 94 for a totally obligation free chat. We’ll be able to advise you on your prospects of making a successful cycling injury compensation claim and answer any questions that you may have. This initial telephone consultation will be entirely free. If you decide that you would like us to take on your claim, in most cases, we'll be able to do this for you by means of a No Win, No Fee personal injury claim. Call Spencers now or enquire online if you prefer to contact us via our website contact form, in the first instance.

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