Check out that photo above, what do you see? Fall leaves, a cyclist commuting to work, a fairly quiet road? I’ll tell you what I see; about 20 opportunities to crash into an abruptly opened car door.

Bicycle lanes are great for cyclists, but they can also create dangerous “door zones” when they are sandwiched between vehicle lanes and parked cars. The expensive, pie-in-the-sky approach is to design and build better bike lanes, but in the meantime, drivers can do something very simple to help protect cyclists from the dangers of getting doored. It’s called the “Dutch Reach” and it addresses a serious issue facing cyclists navigating the streets of the U.S. in a very simple way.

Door Zone Cycling
The Door Zone

If you’ve never commuted by bike or spent much time riding around a city the idea of getting hit by a car door may be foreign to you, but to cyclists, it’s all too common an occurrence. In fact, bikers getting hit by an opening car door is so common it has it’s own term: getting ‘doored’ or ‘dooring.’ Getting doored sucks. Best case scenario, you hit the open door, get stopped rapidly and hit the pavement. Worst case scenario, you hit a sharp corner on a half open door and get a serious gash in the process.

According to a review of bike crash data in Chicago, about 1 in 5 bicycle accidents involve car doors. When cyclists are sandwiched between traffic and parked cars there’s an even bigger risk than hitting the door itself, swerving into traffic. Separating bike lanes with a physical barrier can work, but it takes time and a lot of money.

In the Netherlands, many drivers have been trained, as part of their licensure, on a behavior that dramatically reduces the chances of dooring an unsuspecting cyclist. They don’t give it a name because it is just the way they open a car door. In the U.S. most drivers open a car door with their door side hand, left arm when in the driver’s seat. In the Netherlands, drivers are taught to reach across with their right arm to open the door. The simple change causes drivers to naturally look back, so no extra thought goes into looking for cyclists, it’s just part of the process.

How the Dutch Reach Could Save Lives

The simplicity of the approach is its genius. It doesn’t cost a penny and it doesn’t require extreme effort. All it takes is trading one habit for another easy alternative.

The “Dutch Reach” is a great practice to spread to drivers in the U.S. to help reduce accidents and make bike lanes safer places. Hopefully, one day it will make it into driver’s education. In the meantime, I will continue my current practice of checking rearview mirrors for passengers than approaching carefully.

Edit: I want to point your attention to a grassroots campaign to promote the Dutch Reach. Go check them out and spread the word.