'Car dooring' as an offence must be taken more seriously

Cycling UK says 'car dooring' as an offence must be taken more seriously
Today Friday 3 March, defendants Ms Mandy Chapple (56) and Mr Farook Yusuf Bhikhu (56) were both summoned to Leicester Magistrates Court for the offence of opening a car door, or causing or permitting it to be opened, so as to cause injury, an action which resulted in the death of Leicester schoolteacher Sam Boulton

Ms Chapple pleaded guilty to the charge and, due to her limited income, was handed a £150 fine, broken down as £80 for the offence, a £40 victim surcharge and £30 court costs. This is to be paid in £50 monthly instalments.

Mr Bhikhu, who was driving the taxi Ms Chapple was travelling in, pleaded not guilty and his case will be heard at Loughborough Magistrates Court on 5 June. 

Sam Boulton died following a fatal collision outside Leicester railway station on 27 July 2016. Sam was cycling along London Road at around 1.20pm when a passenger, Ms Chapple, opened the door of a parked private hire car owned by Mr Bhikhu, causing the collision that knocked Sam from his bicycle and into a Citroen van being driven in the outside lane.

Sam sustained fatal injuries and tragically died later that day, his 26th birthday.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) initially declined to prosecute Ms Chapple and Mr Bhikhu. Following contact with Sam's family, Cycling UK began an intervention which successfully persuaded the CPS to review its initial decision.

Tougher penalties, including the option of custodial sentencing, should be an option for the court, which in turn would hopefully encourage the police and CPS to prosecute in car dooring cases.”

Duncan Dollimore, Senior Road Safety and Legal Campaigns Officer

Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK’s Senior Road Safety and Legal Campaigns Officer, who was present at the hearing said:

"As the courts' powers are limited to a maximum £1000, whatever the consequences of car dooring – be it minor or major - it is too often trivialised or dismissed as a minor offence. This possibly explains the reluctance to prosecute in many of the nearly 500 cases each year where a cyclist is seriously injured, or sometimes as in Sam's case killed, as a consequence of somebody opening their car door without looking or care for those on two wheels.

“The biggest problem is that this offence is not taken seriously because of the limited penalties. Cycling UK has repeatedly pressed the Government to introduce new offences of causing serious injury or death by car dooring, with tougher penalties. It is not right or just that tragic cases, such as Sam's, see derisory penalties handed down. 

“Tougher penalties, including the option of custodial sentencing, should be an option for the court, which in turn would hopefully encourage the police and CPS to prosecute in car dooring cases.”

In addition to urging the Government to treat ‘car dooring’ as a serious offence, Cycling UK is also campaigning for widespread adoption of a lifesaving technique called the Dutch Reach. The Dutch Reach, a method popular in the Netherlands, involves drivers being taught to open their car doors with the hand furthest away from the door.

Adopting the Dutch Reach automatically turns the driver's body so they are already looking behind as they open their door, and prevents them from fully opening the door in one motion. Cycling UK would like to see this taught to all learner drivers, included within the Highway Code and a wider Government-led public awareness campaign implemented. 

Continuing, Duncan Dollimore said:

“Despite the many tragic incidents resulting from ‘car dooring’ the Government is reluctant to take it seriously either as an offence or by endorsing a lifesaving technique which will save lives, known as the Dutch Reach. 

“It’s baffling how the Government is happy for an offence which breaks up families to be trivialised in our courts, and does nothing to help put an end to it.” 

Cycling UK will continue to provide support to the Boulton family as Mr Bhikhu’s case goes to trial, but is unable to provide further comment due to ongoing legal proceedings.

Notes to editors

  1. Cycling UK, the national cycling charity, inspires and helps people to cycle and keep cycling, whatever kind of cycling they do or would like to do. Over a century’s experience tells us that cycling is more than useful transport; it makes you feel good, gives you a sense of freedom and creates a better environment for everyone. www.cyclinguk.org
  2. 'Car dooring' is a criminal offence under Regulation 105 of the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/1986/1078/regulation/105/made  and Section 42 Road Traffic Act 1988 http://www.cyclistsdefencefund.org.uk/the-law-for-cyclists-hit-by-vehic…. However this offence is only punishable by a fine of up to £1,000 and no penalty points can be imposed on the offender’s licence.  
  3. Cycling UK recently made the case for adequate sentencing for car dooring offences in their response to the Ministry of Justice’s consultation on the review of road traffic offences and penalties. 
  4. For further information on the Dutch Reach and Cycling UK’s position see: https://www.cyclinguk.org/blog/samjones/dutch-reach 
  5. Cyclist Sam Harding was killed https://www.cyclinguk.org/cycle/car-door-dangers in August 2012, when driver Kenan Aydogdu opened his car door in front of Harding on London's Holloway Road. Given that this was not a 'driving offence', and the maximum penalty for car dooring was only £1000, the Crown Prosecution Service brought a 'manslaughter' prosecution against him, but he was acquitted despite his windows being coated with dark plastic film, reducing visibility in and out of the car to 17% of their normal level. He was fined £200 for the car-dooring offence.
  6. Cyclist Robert Hamilton was killed in January 2014, when driver Joanne Jackson opened the driver’s door of her car in front of Robert as he was cycling along Linaker Street in Southport. Jackson was prosecuted for a car-dooring offence and fined £305.

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