Do you do the Dutch Reach?

The Dutch know how to make cycling safe, and it's not all about infrastructure (photo: Flickr CC / Amsterdamized)

Do you do the Dutch Reach?

We all know the Dutch have it pretty sussed when it comes to cycling, but is copying the way they open their car doors going a step too far in our admiration? Cycling UK's Sam Jones says not.

I’m going to ask a bit of a personal question: do you do the Dutch Reach? If not, why not? 

If you’re one of the many who does not practice the Dutch Reach, I would hazard a guess and assume it is probably because you have never heard of it – yet. 

In recent months, the Dutch Reach has been gaining notoriety, and for good reason as Hugh Morris pointed out in this week’s Telegraph Travel section: “Titter all your like but the Dutch Reach is no laughing matter. It's no euphemism, but the name of a simple manoeuvre that, if widely adopted by motorists, could save lives”.

It’s clear to see the amusement as, well … the name does lend itself to something altogether different. However, if you’re someone who cycles, then you’ll be more likely to connect the word 'Dutch' with 'good for cycling', and that is definitely what the Dutch Reach is about.

Titter all your like but the Dutch Reach is no laughing matter. It's no euphemism, but the name of a simple manoeuvre that, if widely adopted by motorists, could save lives

Hugh Morris, travel writer

Essentially, it 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 Netherlands, where they drive on the right, this means the driver would open their door with their right hand. 

In the UK, this would be reversed, and the driver would look to open their door with their left hand, not their right. Now, how is this any different from opening a car door with your right hand, apart from being a bit more awkward?

For a start, as you reach across your chest, your body naturally turns, making it easier not just to check your mirrors for oncoming traffic (including cyclists), but also places you in a position to actually see the traffic. If it’s safe to do so, you can then open your door, and as you’re reaching across your body, you can ensure the door only opens partially, not to its full extent. 

It’s taught in the Netherlands during your driving instruction and has been helping to save lives over there for close to 50 years. 

At Cycling UK, we’ve been aware of this technique, but it wasn’t until it was spelt out clearly in the video we posted on our Facebook wall back in September last year that its appeal became apparent. 

It’s a simple procedure that can protect cyclists, motorcyclists, pedestrians and even drivers and passengers. We love it, and so does the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA). They started advocating its use last week and, in an effort to make it part of the education process when learning to drive, passed on the guidance to members - a substantial amount of whom are driving instructors.

In 2015, there were 474 reported car 'dooring' incidents, according to the Department for Transport. How many of these could have been avoided if the Dutch Reach was a common practice in the UK? Not all of these incidents resulted in serious injury or death but the risk is definitely there, as we know all too well with cases like that of Leicester school teacher, Sam Boulton

I put the question to the Cycling Minister, Andrew Jones MP, this week (Tuesday 7 February) as he spoke at an All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group event. I asked the Minister whether the Department for Transport (DfT) was aware of the Dutch Reach, and if they had any plans to see about introducing it into the driving test or even create a THINK! style driver awareness campaign. 

It was encouraging to learn the Minister had heard of the campaign, but that’s about the only leeway he would allow, as he explained how he wouldn’t want to mandate which arm a driver uses to open the door

What we are calling for is guidance and education about a life-saving technique

Sam Jones, Cycling UK's Campaigns and Communications Coordinator

The atmosphere within the room turned decidedly hostile, with audible mutterings of disagreement with what the Minister was saying. It’s clear Cycling UK is not calling for a change in the law that dictates which arm drivers and passengers should use to open the door. That would just be silly, not to mention unenforceable. 

What we are calling for, though, is guidance and education about a life-saving technique. I tried a different tactic and highlighted the DfT’s previous THINK! campaign on lorry danger, which the Minister had previously cited as a success, despite general misgivings from road safety and cycle campaign groups. 

Surely if the DfT can advise cyclists on how they should behave around lorries (rather than the other way round - but that’s an altogether different article), then surely they can also help drivers keep themselves and others safe through a similar style awareness campaign? It would keep with the Department’s stated mission “to keep all road users safe, including cyclists” as reported in the same Telegraph article. 

Mr Jones finally conceded that there was some merit in the technique, but confirmed there were no plans to teach it to learner drivers in the UK, nor to require drivers generally to employ it.

It’s difficult to understand the Minister’s reluctance to a measure that could significantly cut down car-dooring incidents with very little expenditure required. It’s obvious his response was not the answer we would have wished for, but it is a start of a wider campaign that goes beyond simple driver or passenger behaviour.

However, as long as car-dooring is still treated as a trivial offence in the courts or a matter for joking about in the national media, then we’ll have our work cut out for ourselves as we try to make our roads safer for everyone.

Until the offence itself is changed, and best practice adopted and promoted by Government, it’s down to us. So please do practise the Dutch Reach and spread the word among your friends, families and colleagues. 

RoSPA’s advice on the Dutch Reach

Tips for drivers

  • Check your rear-view mirror and side-view mirror before opening your car door with your far-side hand. The Dutch Reach forces your body to turn, making it a habit to look for cyclists.
  • Open your door slowly at first, do not fling it open.

Tips for cyclists

  • Cycle outside of the 'door zone'. Ride at least a metre away from parked cars to avoid opening car doors on streets with and without cycle lanes. It is useful to remember the saying: 'Door and a bit more.'
  • Be aware of situations that could indicate a car door opening. Look out for recently-parked vehicles, vehicles with occupants visible through the window, taxi or delivery vehicles or the sight or sound of a door opening.

You can find out more information on how to ride safely in traffic with these helpful tips from our resident cycling instructor, Julie Rand.

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Paragraph 6 -the Dutch would use their right hand to open the left side door! You have said the left!
Later on you say that you tried a differen tact - I think that you meant tack - it's what you do in a sailing boat changing direction.
Crazy response from the Minister - I don't know why Politicians so frequently exaggerate simple requests into the ridiculous.
Good article - I'll Tweeting.
Martin McD

Thanks Martin - most embarrassing about the confusion in hands - all corrected now. Was missing an "ic" rather than going nautical on you!