Car door dangers

Car door dangers

A while ago, I read about Sam Harding, who suffered a fatal accident from ‘car dooring’. I was ‘doored’ by a car driver and I couldn’t work for a month. I have read that dooring is not a driving offence, and that it falls under the Road Vehicle Construction and Use Regulations (1986), No. 105. How many people have been prosecuted under this? What is the maximum penalty?

Harold Emmett

Cyclist injuries from car ‘dooring’ are not uncommon. Civil claims for compensation are numerous, prosecutions less so.

Civil claims

I have successfully pursued many ‘dooring’ personal injury claims for cyclists. Generally vehicle insurers admit liability if it can be proved that the cyclist had little or no time to react to the hazard. This is usually the case even if the door was opened by a passenger. A driver has the responsibility to ensure that it is safe for passengers to alight from the vehicle and should give instructions when it is safe to do so. The driver is in a much better position to check what is going on behind due to the positioning of rear view mirrors. A driver should position the vehicle close to the kerb so that there is no gap between the vehicle and pavement.

On a busy road, passengers should if possible alight on the pavement side of the vehicle. It is important to establish liability on the part of the driver so that a claim can be made against an insured defendant. There would be difficulties pursuing a claim against an insured driver if a passenger unexpectedly alighted.

In civil claims, negligence is normally self-evident; accordingly these cases very rarely result in a reported decision. There are, to the best of my knowledge, no reported civil court decisions on drivers opening a car door and only one case relating to a passenger. This was a 1963 case of Brown v Roberts. On the facts of that case, a pedestrian who was hit by a passenger door lost her case against the driver.

Prosecutions

As Mr Emmett correctly points out, prosecutions against drivers are brought under the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986, SI 1986 No. 1078, reg 105, which provides: ‘No person shall open or cause or permit to be opened any door of a motor vehicle or trailer on a road so as to cause injury or danger to any person.’

Section 42 of Road Traffic Act 1988 states that a person who fails to comply with the Regulations is guilty of an offence. The maximum sentence is only a £1,000 fine or penalty notice. This is not much of a deterrent and will hardly satisfy a seriously injured cyclist – or the bereaved relatives of a cyclist.

Prosecutions under this legislation are apparently rare even though it is wide in scope; carelessness does not have to be proved, nor does the injury itself. It only needs to be proved that opening the door caused danger. This calls into question why there are not more prosecutions.

An example of the criminal law in application is Atkins v Metropolitan Police (1994). The driver parked her car in a hurry on the Kings Road, London and opened the door wide enough to get her foot out, causing a collision with a passing motorcyclist. The driver was convicted of an offence under the Regulations and her appeal on the basis that the motorcyclist was riding too close failed.

Prosecutions brought under the legislation are normally straightforward. But in the case of Sam Harding, a decision was made by the Crown Prosecution Service to prosecute the driver for manslaughter. In August 2012, Mr Kenan Aydogdu opened his car door in front of Mr Harding, who was cycling along the Holloway Road, London, causing him to be crushed by a bus. Mr Aydogdu’s subsequent prosecution for manslaughter ended in acquittal, even though he had had the windows of his car coated with a dark plastic film, reducing visibility in and out of the car to 17%.

Sam Harding’s father Keith said there was ‘a gap in the law’. In the press reports, London Assembly Green Party member Jenny Jones indicated that the Metropolitan Police had issued an average of seven to nine fixed penalty notices per year for ‘car dooring’ in the past seven years. This is not many, given the number of cyclists killed or seriously injured in this manner, and is another example of why Cycling UK has quite properly launched the Road Justice Campaign.

Paul Kitson

 

This was first published in the December 2013 / January 2014 edition of Cycle magazine.

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