Another reason to Go Dutch
In the Netherlands, drivers are taught to open the car door with their far hand. It’s an indication of how bicycle-centric their culture is; by performing the ‘Dutch reach’ the driver is forced to turn their head and body, so can see if a cyclist is about to pass, therefore avoid opening the door in their path.
Cycling UK have this week called for British drivers to be taught the method. Eight people have been killed and thousands more injured in the last five years because of car doors being thrown open without looking. The Bikeability scheme already educates cyclists to ride wide of car doors – the width of a door and a little bit more – but this would put the onus on drivers, too.
I was doored once; never since have I ridden in the door zone. Yet daily I see cyclists in that danger area. There is a lack of awareness on both sides: cyclists feel safer on the left; drivers expect cyclists to ‘Get out of the way!’. You only have to search the word ‘cyclist’ online to see drivers’ rants about idiots riding in the middle of the road. Stay in a safe position and open yourself up to abuse; bow to pressure and end up riding in a position that could cause you more harm.
In a rare positive exchange with a taxi driver I succeeded in explaining that the reason I was riding wide was so I wouldn’t get hit into his path by an opening car door – “then you’d be having a bad day as well as me.” He looked at me for a moment then replied, “I never thought of that; you’re right, I’m sorry.” The buzz of that apology lasted for days.
But more common is the yelling, the unpleasantness, the frustrating exchanges. There are many solutions: better infrastructure, different laws, a cultural shift. But something that could help right now is education. All road users would benefit from greater understanding of each other. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a journey by bicycle were part of UK driving lessons? In lieu of that, the ‘Dutch reach’ would be a massive step in the right direction.