denver

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

Denver City Attny: 'Our Policy is to Plead 4pt Careless Charge to a 2Point Violation in bike cases'

On November 11, 2016, our client Brian Starling was riding his bike near S. Ulster Street and E. Technology Way in Denver, when a motorist hit him from behind (the police report described it as a “rear-end” impact).  The motorist told Denver PD, “the sun was in my eyes, I had no idea what I hit.  I thought it was a traffic cone. I pulled over to look at my car and that’s when I noticed the cyclist on the ground.”

The motorist was cited (appropriately, I might add –thanks to Denver PD) for careless driving – a four point violation which typically carries fines, the chance for restitution for the victim, (and in some cases we’ve handled, judges have used this charge and ensuing guilty plea to order community service, ranging from 24 hours to 125 hours).  Did I mention it’s JUST 4-points? 

 Denver Traffic Court handled the driver’s ticket.  Prior to the Court date, both my office and my client contacted the City Attorney handling the matter, Linda Lincoln.  She advised us that Denver City Attorney office policy is to always plead these 4-point careless bicycling cases to a 2-point violation and that Brian was welcome to attend the hearing so he could give his victim impact statement to the court before the court determined sentence. She also indicated, strangely, that she would not be present at night court.  Hmm.

In Brian’s words,

When I spoke to Linda, she started off by saying, "I know you are probably upset, but this is the standard plea that we offer in these situations and any judge will accept this. I will not be in court tomorrow night, but you may show up and request that the court not accept the plea."

So – at 6pm, Brian went to Denver Traffic Court with his statement in hand, anxious to speak to the Court and to make his record about the way this collision affected him mentally, emotionally, and physically, as well as the ramifications it had on his family. 

Sadly – at court, Brian was prevented from speaking.  The court clerk told him he would not be heard, and Brian was left with no choice but to sit and observe as the case was called, pled down to a meaningless 2 point fine, and closed out.  The ultimate charge was a “failure to signal for turns,” a 2 point violation which resulted in a fine of just $176.

Brian recalls the conversation with the court clerk as follows:

 “Last night when I showed up and spoke to the clerk, he looked at my like he had no clue what I was talking about and said "I don't know if they'll let you speak, but wait until they call his name and I will see what I can do." I then waited for about 30-45 minutes to speak. Once the judge called his name, I walked to the front and stood by the clerk waiting for him to act. As the clerk continued to ignore me, this is our exchange:

Me: "Hey, shouldn't I be talking right now?"

Court Clerk: "I told you I can't guarantee that you will be able to speak."

Me: "I spoke to the city attorney about this yesterday and she advised me to show up and request that the court not accept the plea."

Clerk: "The city attorney doesn't come to night court."

Me: "I understand that, but she told me that I can request that the court not accept the plea."

Clerk: "This is an arraignment, we can not tell a person that they can not enter a plea."

 

Needless to say, Brian and I were stunned with the way the City of Denver City Attorney’s office handled this case, and of course outraged that the Court disallowed Brian from speaking.  That a victim would be invited to attend the hearing and then prevented from speaking, is unconscionable.  Talk about re-victimizing someone.

... Had he been given the chance, here is the statement Brian would have made to the Court:

In Mid-November I was hit by a car while riding my bicycle to work. The driver, Ben ____, hit me just 200 feet after the intersection where he turned onto the road I had been travelling and managed to reach a speed of 25 miles per hour despite the fact that he said the sun was blinding him to where he could not see the road in front of him. I was rushed to the ER in an ambulance and the dents on my helmet from hitting a tree stump are signs that this was a time when wearing my helmet could have saved my life. This man who acted so carelessly could not even be bothered to help me off the ground, and instead used our unfortunate time together to blurt out a myriad of excuses for his terrible decision-making.

When my wife, who is 25 weeks pregnant, and I hired our attorney to represent us in this legal matter, we made the assumption that as a citizen protected by a right to share the road peacefully with cars, that justice would be served for my endurance of doctors, appointments, time missed from work, and physical pain from this careless driver’s actions. Until I got word that a 4 point infraction was being lowered to a pathetic 2 point infraction in a plea deal against this driver’s license by the city attorney, who seems both unwilling and uncaring in doing her duty in protecting victims, I was steadfast in my confidence in my city to protect my right to be a citizen cyclist by taking a stance against careless driving. Shockingly, I was wrong.

From the outside looking in, it would appear this city is doing a lot to further cycling rights by adding bike lane mileage, and ensuring that most roads have shared road markers. However, it is in these secretive, almost fly-by-night proceedings that the city makes its true feelings known towards cyclists: that if you are a victim, you cannot depend on justice. That if you are injured by a careless driver, you cannot even count on the faintest hint of punitive action taken. The two point infraction you are levying against this driver is on par with the punishment for failing to use a turn signal. According to the city attorney, my well-being and safety is second rate to a careless driver’s. My suffering means less than his freedom to drive recklessly.

I strongly feel that the city attorney should be ashamed for lowering an already paltry infraction, when she should instead be furthering victim’s rights, making sure their voice is heard and that punitive action is taken against those who deserve it. From the outset, my attorney and I have not sought jail time, we have not sought any penalty that is egregious in any way. However, this driver deserves community service – a time to give back to his community and reflect on his actions when he has taken my safety and sense of peace when biking from me and others who will see this paltry infraction and fear for their own well-being on the road with cars.

I will spend my last words reminding this court and this careless driver that his failure to use common sense when driving almost cost my wife her husband, and our baby its father. Mere inches saved my life. I hope both the city attorney, the judge, and the driver in this case will spend quality time thinking about what I have just stated. As a forgiving person, I certainly hope you never have to encounter the extreme injustice served for me, my wife and our baby today.

Additionally maddening, Brian was prevented from requesting that the Judge hold the case open for restitution pending the outcome of the civil matter/settlement. If the driver’s insurer refuses to pay all of Brian’s damages, he would legally be entitled to seek the remaining out-of-pocket expenses from the driver directly as part of a restitution order in the criminal/traffic case.

If you are a cyclist who lives in Denver and you find this disappointing, please consider the following information:

The City Attorney who handled this matter:

Linda Lincoln

linda.lincoln@denvergov.org

720-913-8081

CA Code Enforcement

Fax: 720-913-8010

The Judge who oversees the traffic court judges is Presiding Judge Marcucci -his info is here: https://www.denvercountycourt.org/honorable-john-marcucci/

We believe it was Judge Callum who heard the case, however it seems to have been the court clerk who made the error in disallowing Brian to speak.

Their contact ph # is here : https://www.denvercountycourt.org/judicial-information/

Or see also: https://www.denvercountycourt.org/judicial-discipline/  ::: 

"Contact the Denver County Court Judicial Discipline Commission, 1437 Bannock Street, Room 108, Denver, CO 80202 (Telephone 720-865-7870) regarding the conduct of Denver County Court Judges or Magistrates.  Complaints regarding the conduct of other County or District Court Judges are handled by the Colorado Commission on Judicial Discipline." 

5280 - "The Joy of Cycling"

"The Centennial State may be bike-friendly, but Denver? More like bike-lukewarmish. In a state heralded for its cycling culture and recognized as one of the country’s best for bikers (Colorado hasn’t placed lower than seventh on the League of American Bicyclists’ annual rankings since 2011), it’d be logical to assume our largest city is also super bike-friendly. But when you focus the lens on Denver, things get a little wobbly." 

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Three questions for Boulder [sic] cycling attorney and former World Cup racer Megan Hottman. —AHB

5280: What’s your key piece of advice for drivers? 

Megan Hottman: Give riders as much space as possible. The law requires three feet, but honestly, that’s the minimum. 

How should a cyclist handle a nasty confrontation, or worse, a collision with a motor vehicle?

Engaging with an angry motorist is never a good idea. Instead, call in the incident to local police and add it to the Close Call Database (closecalldatabase.com), a national site that tracks dangerous areas for cyclists as well as repeat offenders. You can also call the Colorado State Patrol aggressive driver hotline at *277. If there’s a collision, call 911. The cyclist needs to stay put where she landed to prevent potential further injury—unless, of course, she is in danger of being run over. Someone should take photos of everything and get the driver’s info and witness info. 

What kind of legal recourse does a cyclist have if she’s been hurt or her bike has been damaged in an accident?

A cyclist who is hit and injured by a motorist can pursue civil claims against the motorist for medical expenses and lost income, as well as broken bicycle equipment. If the at-fault driver doesn’t have sufficient insurance to cover the cyclist’s claims, the cyclist may file a UIM (underinsured motorist) claim with her own auto insurer.

Read more of the article HERE !! 

(Note: we corrected them at least three times about the "Boulder" mention - it should say Golden!)