A Message to Motorists #5

Dear Motorist,

Did you know that something as simple as opening your car door can cause serious bodily injury to a cyclist? Let me explain.

In many places, slow moving vehicles are required to travel near the right side of the road to allow faster moving vehicles to pass. Naturally, cyclists ride near the shoulder since they are nearly always traveling slower than automobiles. Here’s where your car door comes in. See, if you’re parallel parked and open your door to exit the vehicle, you may be opening your door into the path of an overtaking cyclist. As you can imagine, a cyclist traveling at 10-20 mph who collides with a stationary car door is likely to get seriously injured, as well as do serious damage to the car.

Here’s a simple thing you can do. Before you exit your vehicle, take a moment to check your side view mirror to be sure there are no cyclists coming up from behind. Doing so may prevent someone from getting hurt, and save you a trip to the body shop.

Thanks from all of us bike riders, some of whom may be your friends, neighbors, or loved ones.

Note: Most experienced cyclists know to move out into the traffic lane away from parked cars to avoid getting “doored”, but inexperienced riders—particularly children—may not be aware of the potential danger.

8 Responses to “A Message to Motorists #5”

  • Loren Hackerott says:

    It happened to me.

    I still have the scar tissue to remind me.

    Painfully more cautious now.

  • brad says:

    Amen. My brother, who has a double hip replacement, commutes by bike 36 miles a day roundtrip in the Menlo Park area of California and got doored earlier this year — amazingly he escaped without serious injury but his bike was totaled.

    While anyone who has ever doored a bicyclist is likely to have learned their lesson, it’s amazing how quickly one can forget. Even I, a very bike-aware motorist, find myself opening the door without checking at times, mainly when I’m distracted or in a rush and my mind is occupied by other things. I think this is a case where bicyclists have to assume that motorists will not check their mirrors before opening doors and ride defensively. Trying to educate motorists on this one is pretty much a lost cause.

  • Alan says:


    “Trying to educate motorists on this one is pretty much a lost cause.”

    I think you’re probably right Brad. These notes probably do more to remind us cyclists of the dangers than anything..


  • beth h says:

    Speaking from experience, I find that getting doored is MUCH harder on the bike-rider than the car driver. I was doored 11 years ago. I spent two nights in the hopital (they wouldn’t let me go home until I could remember my name again), suffered a concussion, a broken right hand and broken left wrist. My bike was totaled. I missed three months of work and nearly lost my apartment until my father came through with some help. The driver of the truck was amazing — she admitted it was her fault, and stayed with me until the ambulance came. We exchanged info and a week later I was doing The Legal Dance with a lawyer. Two surgeries and a year of physical therapy later, I had regained abut 75 % use of my right hand again. Today it’s closer to 90 % (I stuck with the PT exercises for three years after being declared medically stationary).

    I had to retire from my career as a musician and music teacher, and today I cannot play mallet percussion instruments (I can’t hold two mallets in my right hand anymore, a big deal with those instruments). I have returned to playing snare drum just for fun, but my technical ability is no longer what it was was. Surgeons were able to restore enough use in my right hand that I could return to work as a bike mechanic, though today if I turn a wrench for more than five or six hours I have to take a break because that hand still gets sore.

    When I was finally able to ride again nearly four months later, I was so freaked out around parked cars that I stuck to car-free paths and busses for the first six weeks back on the bike. Passing parked cars was extremely upsetting for six months or more. Today I tend to take more of the lane than I used to and when angry drivers try to go around me or buzz me I ignore them (though I admit it still rattles me when they yell or honk). My right hand is shaped differently now and doesn’t work quite the same way it used to (which is why I got a full medical/time loss settlement and a new bike out of the deal). Friends who drive are amazed I got back on my bike after the accident; I don’t own a car, what else was I supposed to do?

    This all happened because someone didn’t bother to LOOK before opening their truck door into traffic, an act that took only a second.

  • Megan says:

    I had a run in with a door (hah, hah) as well and empathize deeply with what Beth had to say. My injuries were not nearly as serious or debilitating, however, it’s been about 8 weeks filled with physical therapy, x-rays, doctors appointments, etc. The healing is a very slow process and i have at least 3 more months of healing time. I wrote about the accident in the Bike Trailer Blog

  • brad says:

    Wow, Beth, that’s quite a sobering story. As a musician myself I often find myself worrying about an accident affecting my hands. I don’t make my living at music, but it’s a serious passion and I can only imagine how hard it must have been (and still be) for you to lose that avenue of creative expression.

  • Chester says:

    Also: don’t merely check in the side-view mirror…open your door slowly and gradually while turning your head back to get a real visual on the situation. Field of view isn’t great in side-view mirrors, the situation can be totally different within a second or two, and…in the dark, it’s hard to pick out cyclists unless they’re using a glaring headlight.

    If you open the door slowly and gradually — instead of flinging it open — you give yourself time to get a better look and the cyclist more time to either slow down/stop or steer out of the way.

  • beth h says:

    Brad — One the one hand, being forced to walk away from percussion was hard. On the other hand, it opened the door for me to try other things, including devoting some time to singing and playing guitar (obviously, I play flatpick because I cannot play fingerstyle with my right hand now). I started playing percussion again — specifically snare drum — and while I’ve had to make some technical adjustments I find that I can play a passable roll.

    As for healing — Chester — do EVERYthing your PT tells you to do, especially the at-home stretching exercises. They make a difference in how much mobility and range of motion you can get back, and that will make riding easier when you’re ready to resume. Good luck.

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