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Learn The Dutch Reach And You May Save A Bicyclist's Life

Illustration by Sam Woolley

A bicycle has been my primary mode of transportation for the last six years, ever since my car was scrapped after the engine blew up at 3 a.m. near the conclusion of a 2,000 mile road trip, but not before the world’s least discerning car thieves stole it from the parking lot of the auto repair shop that had determined it wasn’t worth repairing, and then abandoned it blocks away.

Riding my bike everywhere, I knew that I would eventually get doored, but for some reason still thought that I would be able to see it coming and avoid it. And then, three years ago, I found myself sliding face-first on the pavement.


I don’t know exactly what happened. One moment I was riding down the street, and the next my palms were bleeding and my front wheel looked like it had been tied into an incredibly complicated knot. A hotel valet rushing to return a car to a guest had apparently clipped me when opening its door. I think I might’ve avoided a full-on hit because my reflexes swerved a bit before my mind could process what was happening.

Anyway, it sucked and hurt and shredded my palms and wrecked my bike, and I had to walk my sad ass home, rolling the bike along on its lone good wheel. I really wished that damn valet had looked before opening the car door.

Cycling, and commuting especially, is exploding in the United States, and along with it the infrastructure—bike lanes, bicycle-specific lights and signage, bike share services, bike racks in front of businesses—that supports increased cycling. It’s a virtuous cycle, where a larger number of riders demand improved infrastructure, and the improved infrastructure encourages more people to ride.

There are all sorts of reasons to support cycling and cycling infrastructure—it’s better for the environment, it cuts down on commute times for everybody, it attracts taxpaying residents—even if you don’t bike yourself. Besides making it easier to bike, bicycling infrastructure also seeks to make bicycling safer. When riding in dedicated bike lanes, for instance, there’s a much smaller chance of getting hit by a car then when lane sharing.


But even bike lanes—which are usually situated between a driving lane and a row of parked cars, in what savvy riders call “the door zone”—can’t save you from a dooring. Doorings even happen on bike lanes 2.0, like the wonderful protected bike lane that runs by my house. There aren’t great, robust statistics about dooring, but one study found that they made up 20 percent of all reported bike crashes in Chicago in 2011, and they certainly contribute to numerous injuries and even deaths.

In theory, everybody should look out the window before opening their car door, even if they don’t care about bicyclists’ lives. After all, who knows when a bad driver not paying attention is going to drive by, too close to a row of parked cars. But it is clear that many, if not most, people don’t.


The solution, as with most things related to transportation and cycling, comes to us from the Netherlands. There, reports the Boston Globe, drivers are required to open their car door with their right hand as part of the driver’s license exam:

The last task of the exam is opening the driver’s side door. Drivers are required in the exam to use their right hand to open their door, which forces them to turn their torso. That makes it more likely they will look over their shoulder to check for oncoming cyclists who could get doored. Fail that part of the exam, and you could very well fail the whole thing.


Outside made a good video showcasing why the Dutch Reach works:

I doubt states will be putting the Dutch Reach on their driver’s license exams anytime soon, and even doing so would be no guarantee that drivers would adopt the habit—not all drivers use mirrors and turn signals like they’re supposed to, either. But there’s no reason you can’t retrain yourself to open the door this way in a couple of weeks. Who knows, you might even save somebody’s life!


h/t 99% Invisible and PRI

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About the author

Kevin Draper

Reporter at the New York Times

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