Colliding a bike into a car door that was unexpectedly and suddenly opened is one of the gravest health hazards to bicyclists in Chicago. Riding a bicycle in the “door zone,” the first few feet adjacent to a stopped or parallel parked vehicle, can cause serious injuries or death if the occupant in the car suddenly opens the door in the bicyclist’s path of travel. In fact, one out of every five bicycle-related injuries in Chicago are caused by “dooring.”
While it is the responsibility of motor vehicle operators to share the roadway with bicycles, be courteous and provide a generous three feet of clearance, many drivers simply open their door or pull out from a parking space without looking or yielding the right-of-way. Additionally, drivers are expected to keep a watchful eye for bicyclists every time they make a turn in any direction.
In recent years, dooring has claim the lives of many cyclists in the Chicago metropolitan area and injured hundreds more. Even though Chicago is known as a bicyclist-friendly city by providing a bike sharing program and adding bike lanes, careless drivers and passengers in parked vehicles commonly open doors into traffic lanes when a bicyclist is approaching.
Factors Involved in Dooring Accidents
Both city and state traffic laws require every occupant in a vehicle to look first before opening their door. Passengers in taxis are required to exit the vehicle on the curbside. Even so, it takes less than a fraction of a second to harm or kill a bicyclist traveling on crowded streets with inadequate road space for their two-wheel vehicle. Other factors including poor lighting, adverse weather conditions and window tinting on vehicles can distract drivers or diminish their capacity to spot an approaching cyclist before opening the door cautiously.
A study conducted by the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) Division of Traffic Safety indicate that there were 577 reported incidences of dooring accidents in the Chicago Metropolitan area that occurred between 2009 and September 2012. These incidences involved bicyclists who suffered from incapacitating injuries, non-incapacitated injuries and no injuries at all. Statistics released every year indicate that only one in ten bicyclists involved in a non-dooring crash will suffer injuries compared to more than eight out of ten cyclists who suffer injuries when involved in a dooring collision.
In Chicago, the vast majority of dooring accidents occur on the city’s North Side. However, these types of incidences also happen on the city’s South Side in congested neighborhoods such as Hyde Park, especially around the University of Chicago.
A Chain Reaction of Events
In many incidences, bicyclists suffer serious harm after striking a car door and being thrown or diverted into moving traffic. Other times, the cyclist is thrown over the vehicle door and suffers serious injuries including head trauma lacerations and broken legs caused by hitting the handlebars or car door.
Increasing Visibility and Safety
The bicyclist has a responsibility to make themselves as highly visible as possible to others to improve their safety and diminish the potential of being involved in a “dooring” accident. This includes wearing a bike helmet to reduce the potential harm of suffering brain or head injuries from the crash.
Additionally, bike rider visibility can be increased with active lighting such as wearing florescent clothing during the daytime and reflective clothing at night. Active lighting can be installed on the bicycle to include high visibility front white lights, highly illuminated rear red lights or other effective lighting installed on both the bicycle and the cyclist. Any additional lighting can increase the biker’s visibility while traveling on busy streets or long stretches of darkened rural roads.
The city of Chicago has added hundreds of miles of marked bicycle lanes as a part of its “Chicago’s Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 and will construct hundreds of more miles in the years ahead. Themayor’s goal is to build an improved bicycling lane infrastructure throughout the congested urban area as a way to increase safety for everyone. However, even with these effective safety measures, there is no doubt that many more serious dooring accidents are likely to occur in the years ahead, due to a lack of awareness of the harm caused by the negligent drivers and passengers.