Jim’s Tech Talk
by Jim Langley
May is National Bike Month when lots of eager new or returning pedalers join the traffic flow. So, last week we described and gave advice for avoiding a common accident every rider needs to know about. Cyclists call it “getting doored.”
If you missed that story and think “getting doored” has something to do with 60’s rock and roll, click here and catch up – because this type of crash can be nasty.
The commonness and severity of getting doored is why we wrote about it. To add value, we asked for your best tips in the comments. We hoped to hear from cycling traffic safety experts who have been studying the problem for ages because there’s a science to understanding and avoiding it. We also thought other experienced traffic jammers would share secrets.
Well, boy did you deliver! Thanks for the assist. To ensure everyone sees the additional tips and advice, let’s look at some of the best. I’ll add my input here and there.
To start, my friend and fellow Bicycling Magazine alumnus, John Schubert – one of the bike safety experts I hoped would write, posted a comment and much more. He wrote,
“Use lane control. Stay out of the door zone. Stay out of the startle zone. Jim, I love ya, but you shouldn’t even suggest that a rider can safely swerve clear of an opening door. If you do a time-motion study, you’ll see it is unlikely to succeed. These crashes cause thousands of injuries and a number of deaths annually.”
My input: To explain, I suggested you might be able to avoid getting doored because I have done just that, John. But, I trust your superior knowledge on the subject. Especially after reading the sobering article you linked to, which details how doorings can end in cyclists getting run over.
Even though it’s sad to read about recent fatal accidents from getting doored, John covers a lot of ground on avoiding it and how to ride safely in traffic in his article The Real Door Zone Tragedy. It’s worth reading and could save your life. Thanks, John!
Retired police bike officer, “JB55” describes what happens
“As a retired police bike officer, I’d like to add that if you’re ejected from the bicycle due to being doored, it is highly likely that you’ll end up on the pavement in the traffic lane to the left of where you were riding. Doored riders (except at very slow speeds) don’t end up clinging to the car door and don’t end up on the car hood.
In the vast majority of cases where the cyclist is ejected, the cyclist will be thrown into the lane that has overtaking traffic. That’s where the risk of very serious injury and fatality skyrockets. After you hit the pavement, you’re generally not going to immediately bounce upright and your head will probably be at the bumper height of overtaking traffic.
If they’re panic-braking, their bumper just gets even lower as the front of the car dives. To make matters worse, if you’re down on the pavement, an overtaking vehicle that is unable to stop before impact will strike you and then either drag you or roll over you, depending on the speed of the overtaking vehicle and the road clearance it has underneath. Regardless, the results are highly likely to be critical injuries and/or potentially death.
There are lots of arguments about “taking the lane” and I won’t go into those, but each rider needs to be aware of what happens when you’re ejected by a dooring and needs to make their own decision about whether taking the traffic lane to the left of parked vehicles, to avoid the possibility of being doored, is something they want to consider There are lots of factors in that decision, but we should all probably have that decision made before we ride anywhere there’s a dooring zone.”
Another reason to always use a headlight!
Charles R Moeller offered a great preventative tip,
“Having a blinking front light on the bike is very important as it will reflect in the outside mirror which hopefully will attract the attention of the motorist.”
Consider a whistle
Greg Conderacci had some more advice,
“I also try to look for heads in the parked cars, although that can be difficult with high headrests. It’s pretty safe to assume that a car door will open seconds after the driver pulls in. Back in the day when I did a lot of city riding, I would carry a whistle and blow it before passing a long line of parked cars.
Finally, there are moronic bike lanes, like in the neighborhood of Roland Park in Baltimore, where they put a narrow bike lane between a curb and parked cars. It’s impossible to avoid being doored by a passenger, so the only option is to avoid the road all together, defeating the purpose of the lane!”
My input: I assume Greg keeps the whistle between his lips ready to blow when he’s in traffic. You could do that by keeping the whistle on a necklace. And, those lanes that run inside parked cars are called “contraflow” bike lanes here. They usually run along one-way streets. The idea is to provide a way for cyclists to ride in both directions on a road that would otherwise be one-way only for cyclists, too. These lanes are controversial here, too, Greg.
The hazards of weaving in and out
“Tom in MN” brought up the issue of positioning yourself correctly and “John,” elaborated.
Tom said, “All good advice. Look for those heads! I would add that when there are sparsely parked cars along the side of the road that you should not only move out when next to the parked cars, but instead ride at a steady distance from the shoulder/curb that keeps you outside the door zone. You want to avoid last minute swerves out into the traffic lane that make it hard for the car traffic behind you to avoid you. Look for single parked cars in the distance and get out of the door zone well before you get to the car so you can make a gradual move into traffic.”
This goes along with my practice of erring on the side of riding closer to traffic (typically just outside the white line) rather than in all the junk at the edge of the road. I think this helps avoid having drivers stop paying attention to you once they figure they don’t have to avoid you.”
Replying to Tom’s comment, “John” added,
“I believe “Tom in MN’s” comment is a lot more important than proper emergency braking. In city biking I have made it a habit to pick a line that is outside the door range and simply hold it. Weaving in and out around parked cars forces the following drivers to guess what you are going to do next. They guess wrong and you become a hood ornament. If you are going in a straight line and are partially in their lane, they will see you and know they will need to go around you.”
Regarding changing position abruptly, “Maude” correctly pointed out,
“One thing not mentioned at all is that the rider about to be doored might swerve so far into the traffic lane as to be hit by a vehicle from behind. Not a good outcome in all likelihood.”
To which, Demetri Kolokotronis shared,
“It’s happened and resulted in death.”
The importance of good braking technique
Mark Ward made great points about stopping quickly,
“I question the advice of applying the rear brake first in an emergency braking situation. I’ve been a lifelong rider of motorcycles and bicycles, off-road and on, and I know that most of our stopping power comes from the front wheel, even on loose ground when applied judiciously.
Riding mountain bikes on gravel is a great way to gain experience here. Disc brakes should also help as they are generally considered easier to modulate. The wonderful braking power from the front comes from the fact that the weight is far forward on road bikes – and even more so when actually braking. You just don’t want to go past the grip point! That comes from knowing your bike and tires, and having a bike with good front-end feel.”
It’s also the motorist’s responsibility to help prevent doorings
To close, reader “CaptEurotrash,” offered a Euro perspective,
“Another dimension to this, and a ready solution to this perennial issue, is the motorist’s responsibility. You mention the sideview mirror. In Europe, drivers are taught to look into this mirror before exiting the vehicle. After all, this is one reason such mirrors are mounted. If this precaution is not followed, the law concludes the driver will automatically be held at fault for any injuries or damages, certainly fatalities, that may result. Same applies to injudicious opening of doors by passengers.
Certainly, I follow the precaution of cycling beyond the swing radius of doors and looking out for vehicles with activated white reversing lights, brake lights, blinkers and front tires turning, but essentially the driver should be held at fault if anything untoward occurs, the same principle as when motorists back into traffic from a driveway without performing a proper rearward scan (another pet peeve of mine). The “Oops, I didn’t see you” – driver would accordingly be guilty of a hit-and-run, even if no damage or injuries were sustained.”
My input: Thanks, Capt. It’s great to hear that European drivers are taught to be cautious. I was taught these things during driver’s education classes here in the USA in high school in 1969. But judging by what I see riding to work and from the doorings I still hear about, I don’t know if it’s still taught here or whether it’s emphasized enough. Also, because commuting has traditionally been much more prevalent in Europe, it’s possible that the average driver there better appreciates to watch for riders.
To read the entire comments thread as posted, please visit the original article and scroll to the bottom.
Thanks everyone for sharing your expertise and helping keep cyclists safe!
Ride total: 9,268
David Tepfer says
The best defense is to keep your speed down, giving you a chance to react.
Robert Ray says
Require the “Dutch Reach” which means using your right hand to open the Driver’s door. It forces you to look left and see the left lane and driver’s mirror! What a concept. Now if we could only get people to use this technique!
John Allen says
Keep your speed down? Nonsense, you can’t react in time. “Dutch reach” — is asking the bicyclist to put full faith and trust in every driver, and besides, looking back over the shoulder doesn’t work in a car because the door frame and door pillar are in the way. Motorists do better by checking the side-view mirror and bicyclists should just stay out of the door zone.
John Schubert says
There is no need to worry at all about car door collisions. Just ride clear of car doors.
That does require an adjustment in your thinking about your place on the road. That adjustment will improve your life, and you can see why it’s so good by taking the free on-line mini course at cyclingsavvy.org.
And Jim, thank you for the compliments!
Jim Langley says
You’re very welcome, John! Appreciate you sharing your expertise and helping riders stay safe out there – including today’s tip to take the free mini-course on cyclingsavvy.org! I’m going to do that myself.
Keep up the great work!
John Mullineaux says
One of the problems with looking for heads in parked cars are the headrests with obscure the drivers in most newer cars. Take the lane.
It’s actually surprisingly easy to see if there’s someone in the driver’s seat by looking at the mirror on the driver side of the car. Someone told me that years ago, and I tried it, assuming the lighting would make it tough to see. I was wrong. I have avoided a lot of doors and cars about to turn out into the lane this way.
LEN SPITZER says
Another clue if someone is getting out of the car is to look for the interior lights illuminating as a door is being opened. Not foolproof, but another clue in your arsenal.
Jim Langley says
Thanks, Len, good one!
Kevin Miller says
The proliferation of “crack dealer” tint windows makes trying to see movement in vehicles more difficult. Around here the fad is getting to where a rider can not see into a car from any angle. It is a safety concern not being able to see where an automobilists is looking.
From a source that consistently offers cogent, applicable advice to all levels of rider experience, spotlighting this subject deserves a rousing Bravo! I live and commute in a large city with dedicated bike lanes next to parked cars in abundance. I do watch for signs of potential door opening but have become ridiculously resigned to a less than maximum effort to avoid being doored. Your focus on the subject has been a needed face slap. I never imagined the highly likely ejection into traffic that could happen when a rider is doored.
I haven’t read all of the rider comments so may be redundant when I mention that if you are aware of a driver in a parked car and have time, looking in their rear view mirror to see if they are using it can be another source of defensive info.
Overall, I am now more committed to assuming the lane and riding at traffic speed, than ever. When the yells come, “Use the bike lane moron!” I will use my standard response of “Thank you”, adding a wave if safe to execute. I never argue with an angry person armed with a two ton metal club. Ever.
John Mulvihill says
The subtext running through these comments reflects the devastation of road culture perpetrated by the rubber, oil, and construction magnates who banded together to promote community by automobile as the only acceptable choice by middle-class white families.
Eisenhauer’s vast freeway system cross-crossed the country with autoroutes intended for use first by the military should America be invaded. By the lat 50s, when sadly for some America’s destiny was not lived out via existential conflict, without missing a beat the role of people moving was usurped by freeways that moved people and goods, whether for vacations (though what possible enjoyment spending 10 hours a day in an overheated car is unknowable to me) or the transfer of manufacturers good from here to there — with the same thing going on in the other direction at the same time.
Photo essays of Americans vacationing on freeways far away from anywhere worth visiting, and gasping with diesel fumes the whole way (until recently America diesel was far dirtier that Euro diesel), required a few magical destinations to justifiy the whole mess. Walt Disney, genius that he was, happily provided destinations on both coasts.
Looking at it this way, how the American Dream was just a other con that choked the nation’s highways with tired, bored, and increasingly more distracted People In Cars, the whole paradigm could only have brought us to one place: here.
Here, where people ignore climate change to buy ever-larger SUVs and know exactly what they are doing. Here, where cyclists are crushed to death by distracted drivers and not even an inquest is convened. Here, where kids no longer ride their bikes to school because their helicopter parents consider cycling too dangerous. (But avoiding vaccines and endangering their classmates is perfectly okay.) Here, where the only good adult cyclist is a dead adult cyclist
It had to come to this. There was no other place for it to go. And now that the veil has been lifted from our eyes, its time for Anericans to live up to their legacy and get up and say they’re not going to take it any more.
Ooops, sorry, Alexis! Just a slip of the tongue!
Greg Titus says
Just an FYI about using a whistle…it may actually be illegal. In Iowa, state law says whistles aren’t allowed (nor are sirens). If it’s illegal in Iowa, I suspect it may be in other states as well. The reason might be because whistles have been used by traffic cops in the past.
Steve Weeks says
There are some very effective air horns available (eg: Delta Cycle “Air Zound”). I have one of these on my commuter bike and have found it very useful in alerting drivers to my presence on the road. I think it’s so effective because most motorists don’t associate such a loud noise with a bicycle. Of course, the horn will not close the door for you… it must be used well in advance, and the cyclist still needs a “plan B”.
1) If there’s any risk take the lane, the whole lane, and don’t apologize.
2) Assume there’s a driver in every car about to fling the door open
3) Assume you’re invisible to drivers
4) Use front and read STRONG blinky lights day and night
5) Ride in a pack for safety and visibility
6) Ignore asshole drivers who think they own the road – don’t engage
7) Assume every driver is texting
8) Don’t run red lights ever
9) Thank cops while riding
10) Check your brakes often
Paul Ahart says
I appreciate reading all the comments on the issue of being “doored” by not-looking driviers.
Many commentors mentioned running very bright strobing headlights. As a driver as well as a cyclist, I find these strobing lights, often aimed high, are distracting to the point of being blinding and dangerous in themselves. Here in Washington State, it is illegal to run flashing headlights; they must be run in “steady” mode. Many cyclists ignore this law. In Europe, flashing lights, head or tail, are forbidden; only emergency vehicles may employ flashing lights.
My solution: I have a generator front hub and nearly always ride with my headlight “on,” which also powers my generator-powered tail light. The headlight is the very best German light. As I live in a sort-of rural area, getting doored isn’t as big an issue as in urban areas. Perhaps I’d have to join the “flashers” if I rode more in the big city.
Charles Bell says
Long ago, my girl friend told me a story about being doored. She was riding her Fuji racing bike with a monkey on her shoulder. She ended up in the front seat with the driver and the monkey and a dislocated shoulder. I had never heard of being “doored” but the story made an impact through its humor and danger fitted together.
Steve Weeks says
One very useful accessory for safe cycling is the rear-view mirror. As it relates to “dooring”, the mirror helps when taking the lane to monitor cars approaching from behind. A glance in the mirror every few seconds is easier than turning the rider’s head.