Do you know how to safely open a car door?

So, you’ve parked your car. You’ve unbuckled your seatbelt. You’ve taken the key out of the ignition (or pushed the button, or waved a magic wand, or whatever).

Now, which hand do you use to open your car door?

Odds are good that here in the United States, you have always used your left hand. Of course you do, you probably have never even thought about it until right now. And you’re not alone.

But, changing your habit and opening the door with your right hand–increasingly known as the “dutch reach”–could save a life.

One of the most serious hazards bicyclists encounter is an unexpected, flung-open car door. When drivers throw open their doors without thinking, bicyclists can be caught unawares and crash into the doors. Or worse, a bicyclist may swerve into traffic unexpectedly, putting themselves at even greater risk.

These “dooring” crashes account for 13% of all crashes reported in WABA’s Crash Tracker and are a very real, and increasing, danger for bicyclists as more cars and bicyclists are sharing the road. Thanks to the dutch reach, you can help!

The dutch reach began in the Netherlands (hence the name), where people understand the risk of an opening car door to cyclists and the intrinsic benefits of opening the door with the “inside hand.” In fact, they recognize that this technique is so useful that students in primary school are taught this method. Outside Magazine recently made a fun video about the dutch reach and posted it here on You Tube.

In the United States the Dutch Reach Project is working tirelessly to increase awareness of the dutch reach, along with coming up with some very clever haikus. Locally, the District of Columbia is working to increase the fine on motorists found responsible for dooring someone. In the proposed revisions, vehicle operators would be fined $50 for, “opening door or permitting a door to open on either side that poses danger to a pedestrian, bicyclist, or motor vehicle.”

It should be noted that there already is a law in place in DC that prohibits dooring. Rule 18-2214.4 states, “No person shall open any door of a vehicle unless it is reasonably safe to do so and can be done without interfering with moving traffic, bicyclists, or pedestrians and with safety to such person and passengers.” This rule makes it clear that the responsibility to verify that it’s safe for a car door to be opened by any passenger is the operators.

It seems so simple – but practicing the dutch reach regularly could have exponential ramifications as your friends, family, coworkers, Uber/Lyft passengers, and random passers-by witness your technique. The next time you’re getting out of the car, give it a try!

How it works:

Reach to the door handle with the hand closest to the center of the car, notice how your body is already rotated so you can look over your outside shoulder and see if anyone is passing close to your door. Share the dutch reach with your friends and family, you never know, it could be me and my son you see riding by your parked car.

In the not-too-distant future, the WABA Education team will be reaching out to vehicle operators in the region to have discussions on how to be a bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly driver. These conversations will serve as an opportunity for drivers to understand the challenges that bicyclists have while riding on the road and for bicyclists to hear the same from drivers. Ultimately, our roadways can be shared by all modes and everyone should be able to get to their destination safely. Keep watching for the announcement and launch of this program.