What should the Highway Code should say about 'car dooring'?

The Highway Code needs to revise its advice on 'car dooring'
Look out for cyclists when opening car doors
Look out for cyclists when opening car doors

What should the Highway Code should say about 'car dooring'?

Cycling UK believes that the Highway Code should contain clearer guidance about opening car doors safely, and include advice on the ‘Dutch Reach’.

Background

There are 307 rules in the HC. Those saying ‘MUST’ or ‘MUST NOT’ relate to statute law, and breaching them is an offence. Infringing the other rules is not inherently criminal, but may be used in court to decide whether a more general offence has been committed (e.g. ‘careless’ or ‘dangerous’ driving, or obstruction of the highway), or whether civil liabilities have occurred (whether someone is owed compensation for injury or property damages).

Typically, the HC is fully reviewed every six or seven years, but there has been no comprehensive review since 2007, when Cycling UK’s campaigning led to 40 changes to the initial consultation draft. Although some changes to the Code have been made piecemeal, another revision is long overdue, not least because of the need to ensure that the rules take account of the increasing automation of vehicles, and of various changes which have been made to traffic signs and signals (many of which have provided welcome benefits for cycling).

While Cycling UK argues that a full review is needed, there are four specific recommendations for rule changes which are particularly important either for cycle safety, or to prevent people from being deterred from cycling. These cover ‘car dooring’ (which we discuss here), along with rules on overtaking distances, junction priority and removing prejudicial rules on helmets and hi-viz (we discuss these in other articles).

Note: the Highway Code (HC) applies in England, Scotland and Wales (GB). There is a separate HC in Northern Ireland (NI), which is based on the GB version.

The specific rules referred to in this article are the same in both the GB and NI versions. Cycling UK’s recommendations on HC amendments are therefore relevant throughout the UK, but would need to be implemented separately in NI.

The offence

It is an offence to open, or cause or permit to be opened, a car door so as to injure or endanger anyone (section 105, The Roads Vehicles (Constructions and Use) Regulations 1986 and section 42, Road Traffic Act 1988).

This is thus expressed as a ‘MUST’ in Rule 239 of the HC, which states that you “MUST ensure you do not hit anyone when you open your door”, with further advice to “check for cyclists or other traffic”.

This rule, however, is not well-known or publicised, and fails to adequately alert drivers to the specific risks to cyclists and motorcyclists if car doors are opened into the road without looking behind first.

The risks of ‘car dooring’

Alongside drivers overtaking too closely and vehicles turning left across their path, car dooring it is a major concern, particularly in urban areas and around parked vehicles.

Being knocked off whilst cycling when someone opens their car door without looking is a very real fear. A project on ‘near misses’, for instance, identified ‘near’ car dooring incidents as one of the most common "scary" incidents reported. Car dooring is not just frightening, though – a carelessly opened car door can lead to a collision with another vehicle, with fatal consequences.

Figures released by the Department for Transport (DfT) to Cycling UK following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request show that, between 2011 and 2015, there were 3,108 people injured, eight fatally, where ‘vehicle door opened or closed negligently’ was recorded as a ‘contributory factor’ in incidents attended by the police. 2,009 of those casualties were people cycling, with five resulting in fatalities.

These figures are, however, highly unlikely to be fully representative of the scale of the problem because only a small proportion of car dooring incidents are attended by the police. While it is reasonable to assume that most serious injury and all fatalities will lead to police involvement, and will therefore be recorded in the DfT’s figures, the minor injury cases (cuts, bumps, bruises etc.) are significantly under-reported as many cyclists do not call the police in such cases.

Car dooring and the ‘Dutch Reach’

Cycling UK recommends that the HC rules should be amended to highlight the dangers that car dooring poses to cyclists and motorcyclists, together with guidance about the ‘Dutch Reach’. This is a simple technique for opening a car door, can be learned in seconds, costs nothing, and can save lives.

The Dutch Reach is a method of opening a car door for a driver (or passenger) where you use your far hand rather than the near hand.

In the UK, this means a driver (or a passenger on the driver’s side) would look to open their door with their left hand, not their right. To do this the driver has to reach across their chest, so their body naturally turns, making it easier not just to check their mirrors for oncoming traffic (including cyclists), but also places them in a position to actually see the traffic. If it is safe to do so, they can then open their door and, as they are reaching across their body, they can ensure the door only opens partially, not to its full extent. 

This technique is taught in the Netherlands during driving instruction and has been helping to save lives there for close to 50 years. Its use by rear seat passengers, who do not have a wing mirror, could help avoid tragic deaths such as that of cyclist Sam Boulton, who died as a result of a rear seat passenger’s failure to look behind before opening her door.

Sam’s father Jeff Boulton has been campaigning for the introduction of the ‘Dutch Reach’ into the HC, with a linked public awareness campaign, and supports Cycling UK recommendation.

Why wouldn’t you change the Highway Code to introduce a simple technique that could stop hundreds of cyclists being knocked off their bikes every year?

By introducing the Dutch Reach into the Highway Code, drivers would learn to always look over their shoulder before opening their car doors. It can be learned in seconds and costs nothing.

Jeff Boulton, father of Sam Boulton

Cycling UK also believes that a new offence of causing death or serious injury by car dooring should be introduced.

 

  • The above recommendation was one of over 80 we made in our 'Cycle safety: make it simple' response to the Department for Transport's Cycle Safety Review.  

 

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