The Door Zone: Bicyclists Injured or Killed Crashing into Opening Car Doors

shutterstock_158680517By Susan Schaben

Bicyclists are often seriously injured or killed in collisions with vehicles, however, not all crashes involve a moving vehicle.

The crash that worries many riders on two wheels is aptly called a “dooring,” a “door prize” or being hit in the “door zone” and it’s more common than one might think. Indeed a rider is at great risk for serious injury or even death by simply crashing into a vehicle door someone unexpectedly opens or by swerving to avoid the open door and being hit by a passing motorist. The area between the parked vehicle and moving traffic is typically the location where this can happen because it’s the safest place or the only place for bicyclists to ride and it’s usually painted as a bike path.

The consequences of this type of accident are quite often deadly or involve major injuries as riders are thrown onto the pavement or into the path of moving vehicles in nearby traffic lanes.

Unlike motor vehicles, bicyclists are not afforded the same basic protections such as air bags, a metal shell or seat belts so the injuries are significant or deadly.

Some cyclists avoid riding in bike lanes because they do not want to be in the door zone. They prefer to ride in traffic lanes where they are also in danger of being hit by faster moving vehicles. It’s a no-win situation for most riders, even though the law favors bicyclists over motorists in accidents involving a “door prize.”

Under California Vehicle Code Section 22517, people opening a door of a vehicle cannot do so unless it is safe and may only leave it open long enough to safely load and unload passengers. So the law requires drivers and passengers to check for oncoming vehicles, bicyclists or pedestrians or they will violate this law. The Golden State is one of forty nationwide to have clear laws pertaining to “dooring” accidents. States that do not have this type of law are: Connecticut, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

In New York City, a public relations campaign was created to cut down on doorings — a problem exasperated by taxi cab passengers. The LOOK! campaign asks drivers and passengers to check for cyclists before opening doors and to exist curbside to prevent such collisions or doorings.

Statistics show the number of injuries sustained in dooring accidents account for roughly 7 to 19 percent of all bicycle collisions in urban communities.

Some of the tragedies here in California include fatal crashes where the cyclist swerves to avoid being hit by the door.

  • A 35-year-old law student, Erik Fitzpatrick was riding his bike on May 19, 2010 in Oakland when a car door opened in front of him. He struck the car door and then flew into traffic where he was pinned underneath a bus. The young man died of his injuries at a hospital.
  • Samuel Hernandez, 19, was killed in May 1987 when his bike crashed into an opened truck door and he was hit by a passing car in Santa Ana, California.
  • Eugene Chan died on August 19, 1994 in San Francisco when a car door was opened and he crashed into it.

How to Avoid a “Dooring” or Being Hit by a Car Door

Motorists should always look in their side mirrors and turn around and check for bicyclists and oncoming traffic before swinging open a door. One trick is to open the left door with your right hand, forcing you to turn your body and check for bicyclists.

If you are a bicyclist, make sure you ride outside of the door zone if it’s possible. Hug the left side of the bicycle lane to stay as far away as possible from parked vehicles. Watch for movement in parked vehicles and listen for sounds of cars opening. Never ride with headphones on because it’s dangerous and if you are hurt in a crash, the insurance company could argue you are partially to blame for your injuries.

What do do if you are Doored?

Stay calm and call for help if you are injured. Ask the driver to remain at the scene and if they refuse to stay or exchange information, try to get down their vehicle’s license plate number or description or ask bystanders for help. If they cooperate, get their name, driver’s license, insurance card, date of birth, address and insurance company information.

Ask witnesses to provide their contact information and request that they stay and speak with police if they are on their way. Take photographs of the aftermath including the vehicle and bicycle as well as injuries.

If you need medical assistance, call an ambulance for serious injuries or have someone drive you to the hospital or doctor for less serious injuries.

Call police and request they respond to the scene, but if they do not it’s up to you to make the report within seven days of the accident.

If you would like to speak with an attorney about an injury accident or wrongful death involving a bicycle accident, call Johnson Attorneys Group at 800-235-6801 and request a free consultation.

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