Dooring Injuries – A Guide for Cyclists

Bicycle handlebars

Most urban cyclists will be all too aware of the risk of being “doored” – the phrase coined to mean colliding with a car door being opened into your path. Dooring is of real concern to cyclists when, according to Cycling UK, 60 people on average are killed or seriously injured by car doors each year. The AA places the figure even higher at 700 dooring injuries per year.

The big question is whose fault is the collision; the vehicle driver or his passenger for not checking their mirrors and looking behind before opening the door, or alternatively the cyclist for not anticipating the possibility of a car door being opened as he passes a parked vehicle and for not keeping a safe distance?

Dooring injuries when cycling – who is at fault?

The Highway Code section 239 states that, “You must ensure you do not hit anyone when you open your door. Check for cyclists”. However, whilst this would appear to place responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the vehicle driver, there has been much debate as to whether cyclists should share the blame.

Lawyers for vehicle drivers have argued that a cyclist should at least be partially responsible, or contributorily negligent as is the legal term, for failing to anticipate that a door could be opened when cycling past, that the cyclist must have been cycling too close to the car for the collision to have occurred and that the cyclist should have been cycling at a speed whereby it was possible to swerve to avoid the opening door. Particular criticism is also directed against cyclists who cycle on the inside of stationary vehicles, known as “filtering”.

In the case of John Burridge v Airwork Limited [2004] EWCA Civ 459 the Court of Appeal had to wrestle with these very arguments and found that each case turns on its own facts. The Court held in that particular case the cyclist was not to blame and also rejected the argument that every cyclist must be contributorily negligent for failing to avoid such a collision. The Court of Appeal stated that it is for the Defendant to show that the cyclist should have somehow avoided the opening car door on the particular facts of the case.

The case of Howells v Trefigin Oil CA (Civ Div) 02/12/1997 is also worthy of consideration. In that case, a cyclist was found to be responsible for colliding with the rear of a stationary vehicle.   A cyclist riding at 25mph in bad weather with his head down was entirely responsible for the injuries suffered when he struck the rear of a parked lorry which was protruding into a bend in the road and partially obstructing it. The cyclist had not looked up until he was within 15 yards of the back of the vehicle and so had effectively been riding blind round the bend. The Court found that he ought to have kept a much better look-out or moderated his speed so that he could have avoided the obstruction. One anticipates that it would not be too great a leap for a driver to argue that in the same way, a cyclist with his head down and riding at speed as he passes parked cars should also at least share some responsibility if a collision occurs with an opening car door.

Campaigns to reduce dooring

Many road safety groups are promoting the Dutch Reach in order to reduce dooring injuries. This is the method originating in the cycle-loving Netherlands whereby the car occupant opens the door with the hand furthest away from the door handle, thus requiring the person to look behind them as the door is opened and preventing the door being opened too wide.  By adopting such a method it is anticipated that many cyclists and pedestrians’ lives would be saved and serious injuries avoided. Whilst not a legal requirement in the UK, groups are campaigning for the Dutch Reach to feature in the Highway Code, thus strengthening the cyclist’s legal position if the manoeuvre is not adopted by vehicle users in the future.

In short therefore, the weight of evidence certainly appears in the cyclist’s favour in dooring collisions and ordinarily puts the responsibility on the car driver or passenger controlling the door. That said, if there is evidence that the cyclist has ridden unreasonably close to the parked vehicle, has kept his head down, cycled at speed, cycled on the inside of stationary vehicles or has not kept a proper look out then at least partial responsibility could conceivably be laid upon him.