As April begins, so come more cyclists on the road. Drivers should consider each cyclist a reminder to use the Dutch Reach method and never open your car door without checking. You can cause serious and even fatal injuries to a cyclist. In Massachusetts, you may also be held financially responsible for the tragedy that follows.
At Breakstone, White & Gluck, our lawyers have represented many cyclists injured by dooring accidents and other bicycle collisions in Boston, Cambridge and across the state. We urge drivers to take a few minutes to learn about the Dutch Reach method to prevent injuries.
Lack of awareness causes many injuries. Many drivers park and open their car door automatically, heedless of its risk to passing cyclists or to themselves (or door!) even as the number of cyclists sharing our roads increases by the year. In Boston alone, the city’s bike counting program tracked nearly 40,000 bike trips each day in 2017. During 2019, the concern spreads beyond cyclists as dockless scooters arrive in the Boston area.
What is the Dutch Reach?
Dooring accidents happen after drivers park and exit their vehicles without checking. The Dutch Reach method attempts to slow the process down and give drivers more time to see cyclists and anticipate potential accidents.
The approach calls on drivers to park and then check their rear-view and side-view mirrors. If there are no cyclists or pedestrians nearby, drivers can turn to open the door with their far hand. In the process, they should get a good look at the road behind them. Both drivers and passengers are advised to follow this approach. By doing so, drivers can limit the risk for injuries to cyclists as well as pedestrians.
Watch this video to learn about the Dutch Reach method. The demonstration begins around the 1 minute mark.
The Dutch Reach method originated in the Netherlands. But Michael Charney, a Cambridge doctor, began campaigning for awareness in Massachusetts in 2016, after the devastating bicycle crash which killed Amanda Phillips in Cambridge’s Inman Square. The 27-year-old was hit by two vehicles, first an open door.
As a result of this campaign, Massachusetts updated its state driver’s manual in 2017, adding instructions for the Dutch Reach method. Dooring has been against the law in Massachusetts since 2009. You can be cited and fined up to $100 per offense for interfering with other traffic, including a pedestrian or cyclist. You can also face a civil claim from the victim seeking financial damages. For years, drivers and cyclists have learned the dangers of dooring crashes after a collision; but adding the Dutch Reach instructions to the Massachusetts driver’s manual now provides clear and concise instructions for how to prevent these crashes.
Following success in Massachusetts, Charney’s campaign has continued, resulting in two other states, Washington and Illinois, adding the Dutch Reach to the state driver’s manual.
Safety Reminders for Traveling Near Cyclists
- Expect cyclists on the road. Many cyclists will travel in the bike lane or to the right of traffic, but remember that cyclists have the legal right to operate in the traffic lane when they need.
- Slow down. When you travel fast, you have less time to respond.
- Follow cyclists at a safe distance. Cyclists should have at least three feet of space when you pass them.
- The further back you travel, the wider your field of vision.
- Remember that cyclists may need to leave the bike lane. You need to make sure you can respond if they do.
- Expect someone may stop unexpectedly, such as a delivery truck or an Uber or Lyft vehicle picking up a passenger.
- Be careful not to startle a cyclist. Never honk.
- Approach crosswalks and traffic signals with caution. Cyclists are supposed to stop, but expect there may be times they can’t due to traffic conditions.
- Use your mirrors. Check for cyclists behind you and next to you, especially before turning or parking.
- Finally, again, be careful when parking. Use the Dutch Reach method. Be cautious when parking in unfamiliar streets and avoid parking near traffic signals and crosswalks.
About Breakstone, White & Gluck
The Boston personal injury lawyers at Breakstone, White & Gluck represent cyclists who have been injured by the negligence of drivers. We also work to prevent bicycle accidents and improve safety through our sponsorship of bicycle clubs in the Boston area and our Project KidSafe campaign, which has donated more than 25,000 bicycle helmets to children across Massachusetts.
If you have been injured, Breakstone, White & Gluck offers a free legal consultation. Learn more about our attorneys.
A recent New York Times article on dooring injuries shows the risks to cyclists continue, even after advocacy efforts in Boston and other cities.
At Breakstone, White & Gluck, our attorneys represent cyclists who have been seriously injured in dooring accidents. While many dooring accidents happen in urban areas such as Boston, Cambridge and Somerville, dooring can happen in any community in Massachusetts. When drivers or passengers open doors without checking, cyclists can suffer devastating injuries, including broken bones, facial fractures and head injuries. Dooring crashes can be fatal.
Dooring crashes do not always make the news in Boston. But they are happening, more than any other type of bicycle accident. In fact, in November 2016, The Boston Globe reported cyclists faced a 225 percent higher risk for dooring than any other bicycle accident injury.
The Dutch Reach Moving Across the U.S.
The New York Times published, “The Dutch Reach: a No-Tech Way to Save Bicyclists’ Lives,” earlier this month. The Dutch Reach takes its name from the Netherlands, where there is a strong culture of safety for cyclists and drivers are taught to closely watch for bikes.
The New York Times interviewed Michael Charney, the Cambridge doctor who campaigned for greater use of the “Dutch Reach” method following the 2016 death of a cyclist in Inman Square. The 27-year-old woman was killed in a dooring crash. Charney’s campaign led the state of Massachusetts to add the “Dutch Reach” method to the state’s driver’s manual in 2017.
According to the article, Massachusetts and Illinois are now the only two states which have added “Dutch Reach” to the drivers’ manuals. Read the page from the Massachusetts driver’s manual.
Drivers can commit to drive safer and reduce the number of dooring crashes, according to those interviewed. Watch a video to learn the Dutch Reach method. Keep a colored ribbon or other reminder in your vehicle to help you check.
The Dutch have a great deal of education for drivers. Students actually start learning about road safety at age 10, then move to bikes before getting in a motor vehicle. Drivers typically spend about $2,700 for driver’s instruction, sitting for nearly 40 hours of instruction.
While you may not sign up for driver’s ed again. But remember that there is education online to help you. Groups such as AAA, AARP or the National Safety Council offer materials to help you avoid collisions. The League of American Bicyclists also offers materials and Bicycle Friendly Driver Training.
Here at Breakstone, White & Gluck, we also want to remind you to put down your cell phone and other distractions. With cyclists and other pedestrians around, it is not safe to reach for your cell phone as soon as you turn off the engine and just step outside without looking. Wait until you step onto the sidewalk and are out of the path of cyclists.
Injured? Free Legal Consultation for Cyclists: 800-379-1244
Breakstone, White & Gluck and our Boston personal injury lawyers specialize in bicycle accident cases. If you have been injured in a dooring accident, our experienced lawyers can represent your best interests, helping you obtain the medical treatment you need and investigating what happened to help ensure the driver is properly cited. For a free legal consultation, contact us at 800-379-1244 or 617-723-7676 or use our contact form.
Cyclists may now ride safer near parked cars, after a recent update to the Massachusetts driver’s manual. On page 109, there is a new title, “The Danger of Open Doors to Bicyclists,” and instructions for the Dutch Reach method of exiting a car.
A common practice in the Netherlands, the Dutch Reach method calls on drivers to park and take three simple steps:
- Check your rear-view mirror.
- Check your side-view mirror.
- Open the door with your far hand, the hand farthest away from the door.
This last step forces drivers to turn their bodies, so they can see cyclists and pedestrians coming from both directions.
A Cambridge man campaigned for the change, which was announced by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation on May 30th. According to The Boston Globe, Michael Charney launched the website dutchreach.org following the death of Amanda Phillips, a 27-year-old barista at Somerville’s Diesel Café. Phillips was riding her bicycle in Inman Square in Cambridge when she struck the open door of a parked Jeep. As a result, Philips was pushed into the street and collided with a dump truck.
This is known as a dooring accident or a car-dooring crash. We have represented numerous cyclists in these accidents, which can cause very serious injuries and are more common than you may realize. According to the City of Boston, dooring accidents accounted for up to 13 percent of all bicycle crashes between 2009 and 2012.
Massachusetts is one of 40 states which have passed dooring laws, according to the League of American Cyclists. Under M.G.L. c. 90 § 14, “No person shall open a door on a motor vehicle unless it is reasonably safe to do so without interfering with the movement of other traffic, including bicyclists and pedestrians.”
Drivers can be fined $100 for each violation. But the greater penalty is drivers may have to pay compensation to injured cyclists. Read about a recent settlement we obtained for a cyclist injured in a dooring accident in Brookline.