Drivesmart column: Is it safe to open your door?

He parked at the side of the road, opened his door, and a passing car tried to tear it off!

By Tim Schewe

Imagine the surprise of the motorist at a collision I once investigated. He parked at the side of the road, opened his door, and a passing car tried to tear it off! It’s a good thing he didn’t step out while he opened the door.

What went wrong here? The motorist didn’t look first, or didn’t see what was overtaking him. He probably felt safe in the fact that he had stopped close to the curb and was out of harm’s way.

In the case of a driver or front seat passenger, there is a mirror present to help see if anything is overtaking the vehicle before you open the door. A quick shoulder check is also a good preventative measure to turn into a habit.

For back seat passengers the rear roof pillar and lack of a mirror can make this task almost impossible.

The Dutch Reach is the best solution for all vehicle occupants use. Open the door with the hand that is on the opposite side of your body from it. This forces your body to rotate toward the door and allows you to look backward through the gap before the door opens very far. If something is there, hopefully there is enough room to avoid a crash.

Today’s highways are no longer designed so that traffic is always on the left side of a parked vehicle. Be cautious of cycle lanes that may be on the right side of parking areas.

Failing to look or see when you open your door poses a significant threat to cyclists often referred to as dooring or being doored. They must use the right hand edge of the roadway and are difficult to see because of their size. The cyclist that slams into an opening car door can be seriously injured.

Cycle lanes designed without a buffer do not eliminate the hazard.

Opening a door from the outside can be a problem as well. It is not uncommon to see a driver walk up to their vehicle and open the door to enter without giving any thought to overtaking traffic. Passing vehicles may be forced to move to the left or stop in order to avoid a collision.

Section 203 of the Motor Vehicle Act forbids opening the door of a motor vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so. Once a door on that side is open, it must not be left open for longer than is required to load or unload passengers.

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement. To comment or learn more, please visit DriveSmartBC.ca

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