I have sent the following message to Dr. Michael Charney, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, promoter of the “Dutch Reach”. The “Dutch Reach” is motorists’ opening the drive’s side door with the opposite hand, so they must look back for bicyclists riding within range of an opening car door.
Dr. Charney —
Have you studied the literature of bicycle crash causation and prevention, see for example Paul Schimek’s study of Boston bicycle crashes — or had any instruction in best practices for safe cycling, for example through the CyclingSavvy program or the League of American Bicyclists Smart cycling program?
Sure, the Dutch Reach will prevent doorings as long as the motorist remembers to use it.
It probably works reasonably well in the Netherlands, where bicyclists have great political influence, where enforcement against motorists is draconian and where bicyclists’ squeezing through tight spaces is unavoidable on crowded, narrow streets that date back to medieval times.
Promotion of the Dutch Reach at least acknowledges that bicyclists riding at normal speeds are unable to stop in time to avoid an opening car door, as hasn’t been universally acknowledged in advice given to bicyclists.
Car doors aren’t the only problem with riding close to parked cars. There are also ride-outs, drive-outs, merge-outs and walk-outs, all of which, as well as dooring, are avoidable by riding far enough from parked vehicles to see, be seen, and have maneuvering room. Every motorist who gets out of the car on the street side is also going to walk out around the front or back of it to get back in, and merge out to drive away. The resulting risks are avoidable only by riding outside the door zone, or if in it, very slowly and cautiously.
Bicyclists who are in a position to be doored also are often overtaking on the right, subjecting themselves to risks of right-hook and left-cross collisions. The “Dutch reach” addresses only dooring.
Promoting the Dutch Reach as if it would make door-zone bicycling safe promotes the false belief that most car-bike crashes on urban streets are overtaking crashes. In fact, these are rare. Bicyclists still have the other problems which result from edge-riding, and become uneasy. These bicyclists’ beliefs either trap them in the door zone or lead them to quit bicycling.
Bicyclists who rely on the Dutch Reach are defining themselves as helpless victims, expecting the same motorists they fear to take all of the responsibility for their safety. Self-definition as a victim prevents bicyclists from understanding that they can take actions to improve their own safety.
Promoting the Dutch Reach perpetuates the idea that bicyclists are second-class citizens, motorists have a superior right to use the road, and promotes the construction of door-zone bicycle lanes which codify that belief.
Most media outlets cover the Dutch Reach — as is usual with bicycling issues — out of context. Once again, as with helmets, bike lanes, etc. etc., a single measure, which has benefits and also which can fail, is described as if it is a be-all-and end-all and draws attention away from what could be a comprehensive and reasoned approach to bicyclists’ mobility and safety.
Would you as an MD advise your patients to come in for a yearly doctor visit and dismiss things they can do for themselves: healthy diet, avoiding smoking, exercise, monitoring for symptoms of serious disease? Would you ignore research which shows the importance of these practices? No, but you are promoting a single practice which can address only one of many safety issues facing bicyclists, and whose promotion unfortunately reinforces common misconceptions and distracts from comprehensive solutions.
Thank you for your attention.