In the last two years, at least three cyclists in London died after they were knocked off their bike by a car door being opened: Patrick Gorma in January 2010 at Chalk Farm in Camden, Sam Harding in August 2011 on Holloway Road in Islington and James Darby in January 2012 on Upper Elmers End Road, Beckenham. (Details about all cycling fatalities in London since 2006 are available here.)
The Highway Code does not leave any doubt on who is to blame in such occasions. Paragraph 239 says:
“If you have to stop on the roadside: you MUST ensure you do not hit anyone when you open your door – check for cyclists or other traffic.”
The driver of the car who killed Sam Harding currently is charged with manslaughter.
However, being on the right side of the law gives small consolation if you’re “doored”. Additionally, even if you’re not severely injured, running into a car door is really painful, as I can report from first hand experience.
Unfortunately, a lot of cyclists, however, are not aware of the danger parked cars pose to them and do not leave enough room when they cycle alongside parked cars.
Here in London, the cycle “lane” painted on the streets quite often fosters cycling close to doors because those lanes are just too narrow. I usually try to cycle on the outer marking of the cycle “lane” or even a few inches to the right of it. Additionally, I also try to have a look at the mirrors of the cars – quite often, you can see if a passenger is about to get off.
The Youtube video above compellingly explains why you should leave much more room when you cycle alongside parked cars.
If you cycle in the middle of the lane, you’re perfectly positioned in the door zone of the cars.
As John Allen explains in his excellent e-book “Bicyling Streets Smart”:
“Where there are parked cars, the usable width of the street begins about 4 feet out from them – or from a wall, hedge or other obstruction. As you approach a blind junction or driveway, you should be even farther from the edge of the road – imagine a car hood poking out. Don’t ride in the danger zone! Only if you are riding very slowly – less than 8 km per hour – can you safely ride within reach of the car doors; even then you must be attentive to opening doors and your reduced visibility to cross traffic. Keep even farther from angle-parked vehicles, which can back out into your path.
Sure, many people – even some cycling “experts” – will tell you, “Always keep as far to the left as possible,” and, “Look out for opening car doors.” But at speeds above 8 km per hour, you can’t stop in time to avoid a car door. Then your only choices are to hit the door or to swerve out into the street – maybe into the path of a passing car. Avoid this problem by riding outside the reach of car doors.”
Unfortunately, not all car drivers understand this and will honk at you when you leave appropriate room to parked cars. However, this is a price worth paying, as I can tell you from first hand experience.
I was doored once while passing a queue of cars lining up in front of a red light in Cologne 15 years ago. I was cycling on the nearside of the cars and the front seat passenger wanted to get off. I wasn’t knocked of my bike but crashed into the door at a speed of about 10 miles an hour. It really, really hurts!
Fortunately, it was the Mercedes rather than my bike or me that was damaged. However, the driver claimed that the door was already open for a long time before I crashed into it. What followed was a long, nasty and unsettling legal struggle that I finally won.