Few things scare urban bicyclists more than the threat of being doored. This term refers to what happens when a vehicle's door swings open into the path of a oncoming bike. Obviously, injury or death are often the end result of an unavoided dooring. The thing that makes this threat so frighting is the suddenness with which it usually occurs. Both Illinois and Chicago law speak to this threat: "No person shall open the door of a vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so. . ." 625 ILCS 5/11-1407, 9-80-035. The City of Chicago even imposes a $150 fine for doing so. The penalty increases to $500 if a collision results. 9-4-025. Additionally, if a bicyclist is injured from a dooring incident a civil personal injury lawsuit may be filed against the wrongdoer.
But I would rather not have you as a client. There are things a cyclist can do to help avoid getting doored:
1. Don't ride too close to parked vehicles: This can be tricky. Your ability to ride outside of the "dooring zone" will depend upon the amount of space between parked vehicles and moving vehicles. That space will depend on factors such as whether the roadway contains a shoulder or bicycle designated lane. If conditions permit, you should ride at least three feet away from parked vehicles. Doing so will probably not take you out of the door zone (the average car door is nearly 5 feet wide), but it should help you swerve to avoid contact with a swung open door.
2. Give taxis a wide berth: When at all possible just stay the hell away from taxi cabs. Exiting passengers do not have mirrors with which to see an oncoming bicyclist, and few will crane their necks to look before opening the door. Any stopped taxi is a dooring incident waiting to happen. If at all possible swing way wide of them.
3. Look for signs: There are tell tale signs that a door may be about to open into your path. Look inside vehicle ahead of you. Look for figures moving inside that mean that the vehicle is occupied. Look in the side view mirror. You may be able to see the driver of the car, and whether he or she is looking at you.
4. Announce your presence: To help avoid a dooring at night you should ride with a blinking yellow or white light mounted on the front of your bicycle. A blinking light will help distinguish you from all of the other sources of illumination that exist in an urban setting. With a light, those drivers who do choose to look before opening their doors will have sufficient warning of your presence. Also, when riding day or night, if you see a door creeping open don't be shy about giving a loud holler to the doorer (doorist?). Do whatever you can to announce your presence.
5. Control your speed: Alter your speed based upon the risk posed from dooring. If you are riding through a tight spot with numerous parked cars to your right, slow down. Sometimes you just will not have the space to swerve away from an opening door and you will need to stop to avoid a collision. Be aware of the potential for danger and act accordingly.
Dooring usually ends badly. That obvious fact noted, always ride relaxed. Riding in constant fear of what could or may happen to you is no fun and will probably increase your chances of getting into some sort of accident. Excessive fear tends to lead to bad decision making on the road (and, if I may, in life in general). However, you should ride aware of the dangers that exist. By doing so you will likely enjoy a lifetime of safe, fun urban cycling.
Click here to watch a dooring video made in Chicago.