Opening the car door to trouble

WRITTEN BY Bill McCarthy

With more cyclists on the road, colliding with an open car door as you ride blissfully down a road, is a recognised hazard of cycling in an urban setting.  This is often referred to as “dooring”.  Injuries can range from being shaken up, to a broken collar bone, to more serious and life threatening injuries.

So whose fault is it when a cyclist gets “doored”?

Cyclists are usually required to ride in bike lanes or to the left of traffic, which places them close to parked cars.  Before opening a car door, a driver and passenger are required to check not just for oncoming cyclists but, in case another car or pedestrian is approaching behind them.

In most cases, the person who opens a door is responsible, if a cyclist gets doored.  It is possible for the person who opens the door to argue that the cyclist should have avoided the door.  Usually, there is very little a cyclist can do to avoid these accidents.  A cyclist may have sufficient time to swerve to avoid a car door but, in a worst case, result in the cyclist end up being struck by an oncoming car.  As scary as getting doored is, a cyclist hitting the car door rather than swerving into oncoming traffic could be the better (and less painful) option, avoiding a potential fatal outcome.

When a cyclist makes a personal injury claim against a driver or passenger, the cyclist must prove that the driver or passenger failed to act in a reasonable manner before opening their door.  The driver or passenger is required to make sure that no cyclist is approaching or riding by before opening their door.

Legislation exists in the Territory which provides “a person must not cause a hazard to any person or vehicle by opening a door of a vehicle, leaving a door of a vehicle open, or getting off, or out of, a vehicle”.  Violators of this law can be subject to a maximum fine of $3,200.  However, this fine is minimal compared to the financial costs as well as the pain and suffering that a victim of a dooring accident may incur.

A tricky issue arises when a child opens the door. In this instance, the responsible adult driver or the parent could be held responsible for the child’s actions.  This will depend on a close examination of the control that the driver or parent has over the child at the time, and what could be reasonably expected of a child as to their capacity to judge and appreciate the risk of opening the door.  The standard of care will vary according to the age of the particular child.  Judged by this standard, the closer the age of the child to the age of majority (18 years), the less the standard of care will be expected of the adult.

With the increasing awareness of the dangers of doors, many cyclist-friendly countries have introduced a simple technique that drivers and passengers can adopt to help reduce the danger of opening a door in the path of a cyclist.  This is, simply open the car door using the hand furtherest away from the door.  Specifically, use your left hand on the driver side, and right hand on the passenger side to open the door.  This technique involves the motorist naturally rotating their body and checking over their shoulder for approaching traffic when opening a car door.

Raising awareness that serious injuries can be caused from poor timing when you open a car door as a cyclist approaches or rides by will reduce the potential for injury to cyclists. If you have been injured in a bike accident, contact us to speak with an experienced injury lawyer.

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