“Dutch Reach” Technique Could Save Bicyclists Lives

The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia notes that bicyclists represent 45 percent of the traffic deaths that occurred in 2017.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (DOT) states that between 2013 and 2017, bicyclist fatalities increased from 11 to 21, with another over 1,100 bicyclists injured in 2017.

Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that bicyclist deaths increased by 1.3 percent in 2016, to the highest number since 1991.

Why are more bicyclists becoming victims? The Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) states that speeding remains an ongoing problem, but there’s something else causing injuries, too, that could be easily stopped if more Americans were aware of it. It’s called “dooring,” and it occurs when a person inside a vehicle opens a door quickly, without looking first, and mistakenly creates a traffic hazard for a bicyclist.

Dr. Michael Charney, a retired physician and cyclist, has launched a new project to address this problem. It’s called the “Dutch Reach,” and provides a simple way for vehicle occupants to check for bicyclists before opening a door.

The “Dutch Reach” Can Help Prevent Dooring Accidents

Charney has a significant reason to be concerned about dooring-related bicycle accidents. On his website, he tells the story of a 24-year-old nursing student who was killed when she crashed into a flung-open car door only five blocks from his home in Massachusetts.

The day after her death, he was speaking with another upset cyclist about the problem. That cyclist told him that the Dutch open their doors differently than Americans do.

“They use their right hand, their far hand,” he said. “It’s much safer.” In other words, if you’re the driver, you use your right hand to open your door, which forces you to cross the arm over your body, turning your body back so it’s very simple to look and see if anyone is coming up behind you. If you’re a passenger, you would use whichever hand was farthest from the door handle.

Because of the large number of bikers in the Netherlands, Dutch kids typically learn this technique from their parents and in school, so they develop the habit early on. But Americans could learn it too. They simply need to be made aware of the technique.

Dutch Reach Technique Offers Multiple Benefits

Massachusetts and Illinois now have the Dutch Reach in their official driver’s manuals, according to the New York Times.

For most people, however, the practice is something they’ve never heard of. Charney is hoping to change that through his Dutch Reach project. He suggests putting a ribbon on the door latch to remind yourself to use your far hand to open it.

The beauty of the technique is that it works for all occupants in the car, and it makes it easy to open doors safely. Some of the benefits include the following:

  • The natural swivel guides the occupant to checking the side mirror view.
  • Slows the process down, potentially warning oncoming bicyclists.
  • Gives the occupant a clear line of sight after the door is partially opened.
  • Enables over-the-shoulder check.
  • Allows the occupant to step out of the vehicle facing oncoming traffic, increasing safety for the individual, as well.

Those interested in spreading the word about the Dutch Reach project can find advocacy tools on the site, including graphics, flyers, stickers, outreach and education materials, activism flowcharts, and more.

As someone who is an avid cyclist, I have heard and seen many riders who have been injured from an opening car door. The Dutch Reach is a simple and effective way to prevent these incidents.