bike crashes

When Cyclists Get Doored

By Megan & Maureen

Cyclists riding beside parked motor vehicles, whether in bike lanes or on roadways, are at serious risk of being “doored.” Dooring collisions happen when a driver or passenger opens a car door directly into a bicyclist’s line of travel.

As most states legally require a cyclist to ride as far to the right as practicable or as judged safe by the bicyclist, this often puts them directly in harm’s way, because they are riding in the door zone: the space taken up by the open door of a vehicle.

cyclist in bike lane.JPG

The bicyclist has no time to react and collides with the open car door. Sometimes, a cyclist may swerve into traffic to avoid running into a car door and, in the worst case, ends up being hit by an oncoming vehicle.

Dooring often occurs in urban, downtown areas where cars are parallel parked and where high levels of traffic and narrow lanes exist. Passengers getting out of taxi cabs, cars or ride-shares often open their doors without looking, which requires a bicyclist to be hyper-alert when riding in the door zone.

However, the law in every state instructs that a driver shall exercise caution when opening their door to exit their vehicle and shall check for overtaking traffic.  C.R.S. § 42-4-1207 - Opening and closing vehicle doors - states that “No person shall open the door of a motor vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so and can be done without interfering with the movement of other traffic; nor shall any person leave a door open on the side of a vehicle available to moving traffic for a period of time longer than necessary to load or unload passengers. Any person who violates any provision of this section commits a class B traffic infraction.”

Forty states have dooring laws. The ten states that do not are: Connecticut, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia

Downtown Denver – Taxi Cab Blocking Bike Lane

Downtown Denver – Taxi Cab Blocking Bike Lane

While bike lanes are meant to make bicycling safer and to protect bicyclists from being involved in a motor vehicle collision, they do increase the chance of bicyclists being involved in a dooring crash.

Often, cars are illegally parked in bike lanes. Bicyclists are forced to navigate around the car or pay special attention to cars entering/leaving the lane. In some cases, the lane on the far right has been designated as both a bike lane as well as a parking lane.

Recently, we represented a client who lost a finger due to a dooring crash.  Our client was riding in the bike lane in Boulder.  The bike lane was positioned between car traffic lanes to her left and parked cars along the curb to her right.  She was smartly scanning the backs of car windows and checking side mirrors to look for any drivers in vehicles who might be exiting their vehicle.  As she approached a limo, she noted the windows were tinted.  She also saw what appeared to be the driver of the limo, leaning against the passenger side of the limo.  She dismissed the limo as a threat until suddenly without warning, the driver threw his door open to exit the vehicle.  Our client attempted to swerve to avoid the car door (knowing that she had overtaking vehicle traffic to her left) and as she did so, the ring on her right hand finger caught on the door handle of the limo. 

As her treatment evolved, she underwent numerous surgeries to try and lessen the nerve pain she was experiencing in her hand.  After all possible remedies were attempted, she had no choice but to have her middle finger amputated to stop the incessant and overwhelming pain in her hand. 

Of course, the insurance company for the driver attempted to paint this event as the cyclist’s fault – while acknowledging she was appropriately in the bike lane, and she was riding uphill at a slow pace, doing everything correctly, legally, and prudently -- they still tried to pin blame on her for somehow failing to avoid the opening door, or failing to steer around it.  Eventually, we obtained a very large settlement on her behalf, but it was only after lengthy litigation, at mediation which was a few months before trial.  Sadly, our client is now left permanently impaired by the loss of her finger, which impacted her ability to ride and race her bike, to swim (which was her lifelong sport and passion) and to compete in triathlon, which she loved.

We have heard other stories of drivers opening their door as a cyclist was riding by, causing the cyclist to crash into the inside of the driver door – one such story involved the cyclist being impaled by part of the handlebars because of the sudden and complete stop caused by impacting the non-moving/open car door. 

These types of collisions can be very serious and possibly deadly.  The real problem is that driver-side car doors are often RIGHT into or next to, the very bike lane built to protect cyclists! 

Protected Bike Lane in Downtown Denver

Protected Bike Lane in Downtown Denver

Ed Beighe of azbikelaw.org - a site dedicated to cycling, traffic safety, traffic justice and legal topics - reports that a bike lane in Durham, New Hampshire was actually removed after the death of a cyclist due to a dooring collision. Read more here.

Now – cyclists should note that in most states, there is no legal requirement that they must ride in the bike lane simply because a bike lane is present.  It is recommended, but not mandatory.  This means that if the cyclist judges it unsafe to ride in the bike lane next to parked cars, the cyclist can move left out of the bike lane and take the traffic lane. 

bike lane.JPG

What should drivers and passengers do?

·      Look in the rearview and side mirrors before opening the car door slowly and with caution.

·      Open the vehicle door with the arm furthest from the door. This allows the body to turn and check for bicyclists over the shoulder before exiting the car. This is referred to as the “Dutch Reach.”

·      Open the door a little and look back up the road for bikes and other vehicles.

Image courtesy of Bikeyface, www.bikeyface.com

Image courtesy of Bikeyface, www.bikeyface.com

Your Struggles Develop Your Strengths: a Personal Story

On May 23, 2017, I went down in a bad bike crash.  While I've raced my bike for many years, (and therefore suffered my fair share of bike-race-related crashes), this was by far, the worst. I was on a group ride, and it was a complete fluke -someone rode over a stick and it shot under my front wheel, taking me out in a split second.  I suffered a concussion, a fractured sacrum (pelvis) a torn labrum in my right hip, and ample road rash.  My bike broke in 9 places-including the saddle.  Initially, I didn't fully appreciate (or understand) the extent of my injuries. 

I did what we cyclists do -I brushed myself off, and tried to push through.

Looking back now, with the benefit of hindsight, I can see that was not a smart move.  I kept trying to ride, and train.  I kept pushing hard at work and at home.  I didn't ask for the help I needed.  I kept coming unraveled emotionally and then beating myself up for being weak and soft.

The crash happened at the end of a strong, disciplined spring of training and my season was looking promising.  I was registered to race the first-ever women's singlespeed category at DK200, I was registered to race numerous triathlons including Boulder 70.3, in an attempt to try and qualify as an elite triathlete.  I was registered for my third Ironman AZ in November with a lofty goal of trying to earn a spot to Kona.  2017 was to be my year of big audacious goals.

In May, I felt those goals all slipping away.  I had to let everything go and just focus on being whole again- on being healthy, mentally and physically.  And 6 months later, well... I'll let the video show you: 

I love Arnold's quote at the beginning of this video we made, because he's right - Your Struggles Develop Your Strengths.  We don't ask for adversity or setbacks, but we will ALL experience them.  And sometimes the struggle makes the ultimate journey -and accomplishment- that much sweeter.  And sometimes, we learn we were stronger than we knew. 

Huge thanks to our friends over at HayMaker Media for their work on this project, and in capturing the essence of the struggle, the emotions, the gratitude, and the finish at Ironman Arizona.  What a journey, indeed.  

(Let me just acknowledge that many of our clients suffer injuries far more serious, and endure recoveries that take much longer.  Some clients can never resume their favorite activities and some never fully recover.  That reality is not lost on me, and I fully realize and appreciate that my injuries did and/or will eventually heal- and that my recovery will be pretty short in the scheme of things.  But let me also say this- I read somewhere recently that when we compare our pain, or our joy, to others' ... we diminish our pain or our joy; death by comparison.  We feel what we feel and that's what.  Personally, I wanted to share a video about my experience, not to compare it to anything else but simply to document it and share it).

Guest Blog: Sam's Experience and Lessons

We are reposting this Facebook post by former client Sam Doniach (with his permission) because it includes several great lessons and suggestions - and we hope you can benefit from his experience and his advice! 

"With racing season right around the corner, I figured now would be a good time to share my cautionary tale. This is very long, so if you don't want to read the whole thing the main points are: 

1. Get (and wear) a RoadID or something similar.

2. Tell somebody where and when you are riding and when you expect to be home.

3. If something happens, get a lawyer!

The date: April 4, 2014. Also known as the Rockies' home opener. My wife was working and I had the day off, so I decided to go out for a ride and enjoy the nice spring weather. I was heading home, coming out of Cheeseman Park and heading north on Franklin, crossing 14th. A van (not a minivan, but something like a Ford E-150) was coming south on Franklin and turning left onto 14th. Apparently they either didn't see me or they underestimated how fast I was going, Either way, they turned left right in front of me, and I ran straight into the side of the van. I'm not sure how fast I was going but I imagine between 20 and 25 mph.

Somehow my helmet didn't crack, but I was knocked out cold, and got a couple of pretty big lacerations on my cheek and eyebrow. A bystander called 911, the police and paramedics came, and I was taken to Denver Health. Up to this point, I had always kept my driver's license in my jersey pocket when I was out riding, because in my morbid imagination, I figured that if I was hit and killed, they'd be able to identify the body.

When the paramedics got to me, they cut my whole kit off. I know now that this is standard procedure, because they have to be able to see one's whole body to find out the extent of the injuries. The problem was, my clothes (and ID) were all left with the police on scene, and I was rushed to the hospital completely naked. I was in pretty bad shape - I had a GCS of 8, which means I had some pretty serious brain trauma - and they got me to Denver Health as fast as they could. When I got to the hospital, they had no idea who I was. I was a John Doe.

On almost any other day of the year, this mystery probably would have been solved fairly quickly. But remember what day it was: the Rockies' home opener. Denver Health was on divert, which means they weren't accepting any ambulances except for serious traumas, which my accident certainly qualified as. The paramedics and police were spread thin dealing with all the craziness that goes on downtown on opening day. So a John Doe I remained.

I got hit probably around 6 or 6:30pm. My wife got home from work about 7:30pm. I hadn't told her that I was going for a ride, but when she got home and I wasn't there, she saw that my bike wasn't there either and figured it out pretty quickly. It was already starting to get dark when she got home, but she figured that I'd be home soon. I had my cell phone with me, but when she called it I didn't answer, which isn't unusual when I'm out riding. As it got darker and later, she got more and more worried. She kept calling my phone, but it kept ringing and ringing and never got picked up. At some point, PD brought my belongings to the hospital, but it must have been in a bag and nobody answered it. Eventually the battery must have died because it went straight to voicemail.

She called the police, but they said that she couldn't file a missing persons report until I had been missing for 24 hours. So she started calling hospitals. She didn't know I was a John Doe; in fact, she knew I always took my driver's license with me, so she was asking for me by name, and never found me. She called Denver Health at least 3 or 4 times, but they told her to stop calling because they were on divert. Nobody made the connection. I also hadn't told her where I was going, so she had no idea where I could be, or what area I would have been in if something happened.

Eventually, around 11pm or so, she called the police again, and an officer came to our house. She told him what I looked like, showed him a couple pictures, and said that I had been out for a bike ride and hadn't come home. He went out to his cruiser and was on his phone for about 15 minutes; finally he called her from his cruiser and said that I was at Denver Health. She rushed to the hospital, not knowing what she would find - would I be brain dead? Paralyzed? When she finally found me, I was covered in blood, and all doped up on painkillers. She asked if I knew who she was, and I said "my wife".

I still have no memory of the accident, or of anything for about a week after. All of this story comes from what my wife told me and from what I could piece together from the police and ambulance report. I had 2 subdural hematomas, which means my brain was bleeding under my skull. They kept me in the hospital overnight for observation, and discharged me the next day. I give thanks every day that I wasn't more seriously injured, and I consider myself incredibly lucky that I have no long-term deficits (as far as I can tell) from the accident.

There was good and bad luck (or fate, or karma, or the work of God, or whatever it may be) involved that day. I was hit by a car, it was the Rockies' home opener, and my wife had the worst, scariest day of her life - all bad. But it wasn't a hit and run - the driver stayed on scene. And even though it was a very serious accident, I really wasn't injured that badly. I tried dealing with the driver's insurance company, but I was way out of my depth, so I decided to hire a lawyer. We are lucky to live in a place with so many cyclists, and there are lawyers that deal with exactly this type of accident. I think that I hired the best - Megan Hottman, who sponsors the Cyclist Lawyer cycling team. She worked incredibly hard for me and my wife, and things worked out better than I ever could have imagined.

I'm sharing this story not to get sympathy, or to make people feel bad for me. I consider myself incredibly lucky. But cycling on the road is very, very dangerous, and we need to do everything we can to protect not only ourselves, but the people we love and who love us. I failed to do so that day, and I feel terrible for the fear and pain I caused my wife. So there's a few things I want to pass on:

1. Get a RoadID or something similar! If something happens, you want the hospital to know who you are and who to contact. Especially if you have any serious medical problems or drug allergies - they are incredibly important for the doctors to know about.

2. Tell somebody where and when you are riding and when you expect to be home. If my wife had known where I was going and when I was expecting to be home, she might have had a better idea of where to look for me.

3. If something happens, get a lawyer! I can't emphasize enough how helpful this was. Insurance companies are hard to deal with for a reason - they only want to look out for their bottom line, and they're counting on the fact that the average person doesn't know as much as they do.

Thanks for reading my (long!) story. I hope that nobody has to go through what my wife and I did, and hopefully you can all learn from what happened to me without having to go through something like that."

View his original post here