Separate Lanes, Laws Aren’t Enough to Stop Bicycle Dooring Incidents

May 11, 2017

Despite dooring laws in 41 states and designated bike lanes in cities across the country, dooring incidents continue to cause concern.

A recent report by the Illinois Department of Transportation indicates more than 300 reported cases dooring – bikes hitting open car doors- in Chicago in 2015 – a 50 percent jump from the year before, according to a report by the Chicago Tribune. There were 302 such dooring incidents for the most recently available 2015 data. That was up from 203 in 2014. The numbers in 2015 were down from the 334 reported in 2012.

Active Transportation Alliance spokesman Jim Merrell says the data is a sign more needs to be done to prevent such crashes.

Some cyclists are constantly worried about getting hurt. They look into windows or at taillights to try and determine if someone is about to open a door. Dooring accidents can cause significant injuries. A Chicago dooring injury case settled for $800,000.

Though there’s a lack of data in dooring accident statistics, cities make up a significant portion of bicycle crashes, said Ken McLeod, policy director of The League of American Bicyclists.

Dooring laws are important, he said, because they increase public awareness of the problem and because bicyclists can’t really prepare and avoid a car door opening in front of them.

In 2016, Virginia became the latest state to institute a dooring law. Violators face a fine of $50.

Communities across the country have also designated lanes on streets to improve bicycle safety. McLeod said he is unaware of research that studies whether designated bike lanes help mitigate dooring accidents.

When bike lanes are striped, he said, they are commonly striped to the left of parked cars. McLeod said some cities implement buffer striping to alert bicyclists of the danger, so they ride a little to the left of it.

“There are also more and more protected bike lanes that are being implemented. Sometimes those are barrier protected, but they can also be parking protected in which case they are generally striped to the right of a parked car,” McLeod explained. “There’s still a potential for dooring there when a passenger gets out, but since many cars are only occupied by the driver it reduces the chance of dooring because it’s less likely that a door will open in that bike lane.”

Out of the 41 states that have dooring laws, there are just three states – Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Oregon – that mention bicyclists and pedestrians being protected by the dooring law, McLeod said.

“Most dooring laws just talk about opening a door into traffic and so that really depends on the interpretation of what is traffic, if traffic isn’t specifically defined in another place in a state’s laws,” he explained.

Bicyclists are limited in what they can do to avoid a dooring incident. He said a biker can look for clues, like if a car still has its lights on or was recently parked.

McLeod is aware of just a few public awareness campaigns related to dooring. Some cities have worked with taxi companies to place stickers on windows that remind passengers to look for bicyclists before opening a car door.

“There is also a campaign by private citizens called The Dutch Reach which advocates people opening doors with their right hand, so they are prompted to look behind themselves,” McLeod said.

He is aware of only two car companies with concept cars that have bicycle detection systems, but neither is available for purchase yet.

Cities don’t generally track dooring incidents because they are not required to be reported in crash reports to police, he said.

McLeod said there is a model uniform crash criteria dataset, promoted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Governor Highway Safety Association and the U.S Department of Transportation. It provides data elements that should be on crash reports for police departments.

“As of 2015, it didn’t contain an element for dooring, so there’s no coordinated effort on a nationwide scale to make sure these crashes are reported in a consistent manner,” McLeod said. “That makes it hard to really understand the threat of dooring and how cities’ different approaches to bicycle infrastructure or public safety campaigns affect that threat.”

The AP contributed to this article.

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