Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bicyclist's Story Highlights the Danger Posed By Car Doors

Getting doored scares the bejesus out of me.  I've offered tips on how to avoid it, but those suggestions are far from foolproof.  The truth is that the door that gets you is like a snake hiding in the tall grass; you never see it before it strikes.  I was interviewed by Bob Seidenberg of Pioneer Local for the piece below appearing in the Evanston Review.  It provides a horrific account of what can happen when a driver carelessly opens a door without looking.

While I don't know all of the facts, based on those recounted in the story I don't agree with the suggestion at the end of the piece that just because the driver's traffic citation was dismissed that pursuing a civil case against her is made more difficult.  One really has no bearing on the other.  I have represented cyclists in car vs. bike cases and successfully resolved the civil case even after a not guilty finding on the accompanying traffic citation.  In Mr. Saldana's case, I frankly don't understand what the driver's testimony was or even who offered it at the traffic hearing.  It sounds like her lawyer testified.  I am not sure how or why that was permitted, but it certainly would not be allowed in front of a civil jury.  The driver would have to testify on her own behalf.  Also, I don't get her explanation about reaching for an iced tea.  Was there an bottle/can/cup of iced tea located next to her vehicle that she opened her door to retrieve?  If so, it does not matter why she opened her door.  What matters is that she did so without looking for cyclists.  Or, was she reaching for her tea inside her vehicle and claims to have never opened her door at all?  Documentation (photos or repair bills) of the location of any damage to her door should shine a light on the truth.  Also, the nature of the injury to Mr. Saldana's arm itself strongly suggests that the cause was an open door.  It seems unlikely that he would have sustained the tearing injury described in the story if he just crashed into a closed car door.

In any event, thanks to Bob Seidenberg for bringing this terrible event to light.  Hopefully, it will help remind drivers to look before opening their doors.

* * * * *

By Bob Seidenberg

Carlos Saldana might have come to better terms with the accident that nearly severed his arm June 4 had he ignored the steps bike advocates are always urging for safe riding.

The 25-year-old bicyclist wasn't wearing an iPod. He wore a helmet and bright clothing, even though the accident occurred about 4:30 p.m., well before dusk.

Riding north on Asbury, he had just passed Howard Street and was riding in a shared lane for motorists and cyclists.

He was about 10 feet from a parked vehicle with four occupants.

"She (the driver) opened the door slightly to 'look,' and then opened it more, very quickly," he said. "From the one second she opened the door to one or two seconds, I couldn't avoid it."

He tried to swerve away, but his arm hit the steel door. He flew about 10 feet into the street and rolled right to his feet.

His right biceps muscle was severed to the bone.

Saldana used his shirt as a compress.

At the emergency room, doctors stitched the muscle, closing the wound with 16 staples.

Because of its suddenness, getting "doored" -- colliding with a car door opened carelessly by a driver who doesn't check the side mirror first for moving traffic -- ranks as one of the biggest concerns of urban riders.

"It is perhaps the No. 1 fear that bicyclists have in areas with heavy on-street parking," said Brendan Kevenides, an attorney who specializes in bike injury cases. "The thing that makes it so scary is that it can happen so suddenly. It can be very difficult to foresee."

The effects can prove devastating, as in Saldana's case, he said.
Significant problem

James Heller, president of the Evanston Bicycle Club, has been doored four times.

Some riders, including Heller, have taken to attaching a flashing light to their handlebars to draw motorists' attention as they approach.

They use it during the day as well.

"It catches your attention -- 'Oh, there's a bike rider,'" he said.

Several years ago, legislators made dooring a violation. Illinois law stipulates that "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."

Evanston police will ticket offenders if they are at fault, said Sgt. Thomas Moore, in charge of the Evanston Police Department's traffic division. Moore is aware of several instances of cyclists being doored around the Jewel supermarket on Chicago Avenue.

"You have to be aware of your surroundings; make sure it's absolutely safe to open that door," he said.

Indeed, the officer did ticket the driver of the vehicle in Saldana's case, an elderly woman in her 60s.

The lawyer appeared in court, testifying in Saldana's behalf. In court, though, the woman changed her story, saying she was reaching down for a bottle of iced tea when Saldana's bike slammed into her vehicle's door.

The judge released her from any fine.

Saldana could still pursue civil penalties, but it may be more difficult after the ruling, which he said amounted to "a slap in the face to all bicyclists."


  1. Who was the judge? Don't want to vote to retain them!

  2. My heartiest gratitude for allowing me the honor of saying my words in such a beautiful post. That was extremely written by the way.I found your website perfect for my needs. It contains wonderful and helpful posts


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