Of the more than 1,700 confirmed Boston bicycle accidents and incidents resulting in injury in a recent three-year span, 22 percent involved drivers or passengers opening a vehicle door into the path of an oncoming cyclist, according to city data.
This scenario, more commonly referred to as “dooring,” accounts for 40 percent of all cases in which driver behavior is blamed on local cyclist injuries. Some cyclists call it “the door prize,” but it’s certainly no cause for celebration. Bicyclists are already constantly on the lookout for drivers and pedestrians, but they must also be wary of vehicle occupants who are about to become pedestrians.
As our bike accident attorneys at The Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman's BikeAttorney.com can explain, it is the responsibility of the vehicle occupant to avoid dooring a bicyclist. Someone who is unsafely exiting a vehicle can be held liable for resulting damage and injuries.
The danger is not only the bicyclist hitting the door, but also potentially being knocked or forced into oncoming traffic.Massachusetts Dooring Law
Mass. Gen. Law Ch. 90 Section 14 is clear on this point, stating:
“No person shall open a door on a motor vehicle unless it is reasonably safe to do so without interfering with the movement of other traffic, including bicyclists and pedestrians.”
Violation of this statute is punishable by a maximum $100 fine. However, a citation could also be presented in a civil claim for damages by the injured cyclist as evidence of negligence per se, which is where an act is considered negligent because it broke the law.
The statute is important because it assigns clear responsibility of one party over another to a situation that some people might see simply as an unfortunate but unavoidable incident. The fact is, it’s the vehicle occupants who have all the power in this situation. Certainly, cyclists should avoid vehicle doors that are wide open upon approach. However, there is often not enough time to react when a door suddenly swings open just a few feet ahead.
Particularly in urban settings – like Boston – this kind of statute is important because it creates an incentive for people getting out of vehicles to check for oncoming traffic first.
In Boston, it’s necessary because, as the Boston Cyclist Safety Report shows, dooring crashes accounted for 14 percent of the total bicycle collisions in the city between 2009 and 2012.
It’s worth noting that this was the immediate period after the Bicyclist Safety Bill was signed by the governor in 2009. Although dooring was a frequent cause of civil litigation prior to that, it was not a criminal offense punishable by fine until this law passed.
Massachusetts is one of 40 states to have a dooring law. In 38 of those states – not including Massachusetts – the law applies when people leave their door open longer than necessary to load or unload cargo or passengers or when the door is opened without caution. However, Massachusetts is in the minority in clarifying that bicyclists and pedestrians – not just those in “traffic” – are protected under the dooring statute.
Without these laws, drivers (and passengers) too often create a dangerous condition for bicyclists and motorists.How to Avoid Getting Doored
While the responsibility – both in terms of statutory regulations and civil duty of care – to avoid dooring in Massachusetts is on the shoulders of vehicle occupants, bicyclists can take active measures to protect themselves.
- Watch parked cars. If you see white lights, red lights or someone in the car, you can prepare for the possibility the door will open.
- Avoid distraction. There are no laws that prohibit riders from wearing earphones or checking their phones or talking while riding. But distracted riding can be just as dangerous for the cyclist as distracted driving can be for the driver.
- Plan ahead. If you know there is a particular route that is a bit faster but also a bit more dangerous with more traffic and cars parked along the street, give yourself more time and take the safer route.
- Steer clear of parked vehicles. This can be tough, and it will depend on the amount of space you have to work with, but if you can keep a three-foot clearance between your bike and parked cars, you give yourself a better chance of swerving to avoid contact if a door swings open without warning.
- Stay away from taxis. Passengers don’t have mirrors to check for an approaching bicyclist and most don’t bother when they’re getting in and out.
- Affix a blinking yellow light to the front of your bike. This helps to distinguish you from other lights sources in an urban environment, and drivers who are looking will have a better chance of spotting you.
- Be mindful of your speed.
- Wear a helmet. Ok, this won’t prevent a dooring accident, but it will likely help to lessen the severity of your injuries if you do get hit.
If you are injured in a Massachusetts dooring accident, our experienced attorneys can help.
Contact the Boston Bicycle Accident Lawyers at The Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman's BikeAttorney.com.