With summer here, more cyclists will be on the roads with drivers ever more distracted in their cars. Maybe you have encountered a situation like this while riding on busy roads: you are following the law and riding as far to the right as possible when out of nowhere someone in one of the parked cars swings the door open right in front of you. This dreaded accident type of riding into a parked car door is often referred to by the frequent colloquial, ‘getting doored.’ If you’re in this situation, there’s really no good outcome. If you do have time to react, you can swerve left, away from the door, but that puts you directly into the right lane of traffic. If you don’t have time to react, one of two things will usually happen; (a) your bike stops and you go flying over the door landing on the cement in front of the car or, more likely (b) you fall to the left, rolling (or sliding) into the middle of the flow of traffic – cross your fingers and hope that the driver isn’t texting.
- Look ahead and into the parked cars. See if there is someone sitting in the driver’s seat, i.e., look for a head or movement above the headrest. If so, assume that there is someone in the drivers seat ready to open the door in front of you.
- Ride a distance to the left of the car door so that if it is opened, you won’t hit it.
- Many cities have added a shared lane marking, usually placed in the middle of the #2 lane in a 2-lane road. This means that it is legal for you to ride anywhere within this lane. In a situation where there is a row of parked cars as well as a shared lane, the recommendation is to ride between the following 2 points: within the shared lane but as far to the right as possible, and as far to the left of the parked cars that if a door is opened, you won’t hit it.
- Ride a little slower than if there were no parked cars. This will give you a little more time to react if a car door swings open in front of you.
- Ride with your hands on the hoods and brake levers covered. Hands that are on the hoods means you (and your head) are in a more upright position, which means you can see further up the road. Keeping the brake levers covered will allow you to quickly apply the brakes.
- If you grab a handful of brakes for an emergency stop, momentum will carry you up and over the handlebars. If you need to stop quickly, move your behind as far backwards as possible, way over the rear wheel, and pull both brake levers to the point of almost locking up the rims. This takes practice and is a skill you should master.
- A reader wrote ‘carry a whistle with you.’
- Another reader wrote ‘put a horn on your bike.’
- Put a bright blinking light on the front of your bike.
- Hold your line – instead of swerving in and out between the shared lane and the ‘car-door-zone’, hold a straight line so cars coming up on your left will know where you are and will be riding. We’ve all seen ‘that guy’ swerving towards the curb between parked cars then swerving back into the street while he passes a parked car.
- Wear your helmet and add a front facing helmet light.
- Don’t ride impaired.
- Don’t ride distracted.
Richard Duquette of 911law.com has several articles on this topic. He also adds:
- Avoid using aero bars if on a tri bike.
- If in a group, ride single file.
- If you get ‘doored’, get pictures and a police report.
The Great Debate/The Great Divide
I read a recent survey that had an overwhelming number of replies with the same recommendation: If you want to avoid getting doored, just steer clear of the car door zone. However by doing this, you only have 3 possible options for where to ride: on the sidewalk, in the middle of the right traffic lane (which may or may not be a shared lane) or on a paralleling side-street which usually has less traffic (this is the best option if it exists).
Riding in the middle of the traffic lane turns out to be the great debate. What are your thoughts? Do you ride in and take up the whole right lane? Many think you should. If you ride in and take up the whole lane, it’s true that you are out of the car door zone, however you have placed yourself in the middle of the traffic zone – holding up a lot of angry drivers. Unfortunately I have seen most groups in Orange County ride almost too far to the right, placing themselves right in the car door zone. Groups in San Diego seem to not only ride in the shared lane but, quite often take up the entire shared lane. In a lot of cases I see cars being held up, and then to make a statement, the driver ‘floors it’ to swerve violently around the group of cyclists. I have seen my fair share of close calls. Remember, the car will always win in a cyclist/car collision.
Sidewalk Racing – Some Research Needs to be Done First
What about riding on the sidewalk? This invokes another set of dangers (and lawsuits, and tickets, etc.). There are even more obstacles on the sidewalk such as pedestrians, joggers, runners, baby strollers, dogs, trees, uneven pavement, etc. In California, for example, the state has left the legalities of riding a bike on the sidewalk to the local municipalities. Some municipalities have up to a $275 ticket waiting for you if caught on the sidewalk riding your bike. For example, I sometimes ride from Dana Point to Seaport Village in San Diego, which rounds out to being a 70-mile one-way trip. I meet my wife for a Sunday brunch and we drive back home in the car. The reason I mention this is that on my way to meet my wife, I end up riding through a total of 22 cities and suburbs. Each of these different municipalities needs to be researched to see if they have sidewalk laws for bicyclists. It involves quite a bit of research.
When possible I stay off the main street, especially through town centers, opting instead to take a paralleling side street. I have started seeing many of the San Diego group rides do the same. But when this is not an option, such as several areas of 6 lane (3 each way) of 55 MPH traffic with no bike lane through La Jolla, I do use the sidewalk for my safety.