I've never doored a cyclist. I've never doored anyone. This is not the result of happenstance. Over the years, I've trained myself to pause, check the mirror and look over my shoulder every time I get ready to exit my vehicle. I've heard too many stories and seen too many bad examples of door-meets-bike.
And yet I was dismayed Tuesday when it was announced that the Ontario government plans to fine drivers who "door" cyclists, between $300 and $1,000. That's an increase from current fines, which range from $60 to $300. The government also plans to increase fines for texting and talking.
Really, that's the best our leaders can do? Retroactive tax collection?
Fines are something you do after the fact. You know, after the door has flattened a cyclist. Perhaps I'm behind in my health sciences reading but I have failed to find an entry in The New England Journal of Medicine that reads, "patients in traction found their pain was greatly reduced when informed that the person responsible for inflicting that pain on them no longer has the money to buy a new iPad."
When we talk about dooring we're not talking about overdue library books, we're talking laziness, carelessness and stupidity (often all three at once). You can't cure those with a fine. It's impossible. What we need is more training and more information. We also need more responsibility on both sides.
The other night I checked my mirror before opening my door. What did I see? A cyclist coming along at high speed. To be fair, she was tough to spot, being virtually invisible. Her bike did not have any lights, she was wearing dark clothing, and no helmet. As she passed by, I noticed that she had earphones in. She was wearing one other piece of gear: an idiot's grin.
How does a motorist prepare himself for that? If I drive around at night with my lights off, and my headphones on, I'll eventually be arrested. That's because it's dangerous. Yet this cyclist obviously had made this her daily mode of commute. The only reason she wasn't doored is because I'm a hyper-vigilant. You could fine her but it would have no effect. Sooner or later, someone or something is likely to collide with her. It's just a matter of bad habits meeting bad timing.
What I'm trying to say is: fines never solved a problem. Education and public opinion are what change bad driving habits. We need drivers who are better trained. Why not make motorists take a bicycle awareness test as a requisite for renewing their licenses? We need cyclists who are given respect on the road and in return take responsibility for how they ride. Why not make cyclists take some form of road test?
It's not hard to avoid dooring a cyclist and it shouldn't take the threat of a fine. Just take a breath and look in your mirror and over your shoulder. It's not a superhuman act. We could probably train rats and chimps to do it. Still having trouble? Stick a post-it on your dashboard saying, "Look out for cyclists." As for cyclists who ride at night without lights whilst wearing earphones, "Don't be an idiot" written on the back of their hands in indelible ink may suffice.
Fines are fine but they're no replacement for common sense.
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