Skip to main content
driving concerns

I don't understand why more people don't use the "Dutch reach" to prevent dooring a cyclist. It sounds like something you warn your teenaged daughter to watch out for on a first date, but it's just a way to make drivers and passengers look to see who's coming so they don't hit a cyclist with their doors. I believe it's required learning in the Netherlands. – Jan, Toronto.

Okay, the name Dutch Reach sounds funny, but getting hit by a door is no joke.

"Most people I know who have ridden a bike have been doored to one degree or another," said Jared Kolb, executive director of Cycle Toronto, an advocacy group. "I was doored by a passenger of an Uber vehicle; somebody just didn't check over their shoulder and opened the door. I was able to slow down but I still hit the door."

In 2016, there were 209 incidents of dooring reported to police in Toronto. That was up from 175 in 2015 and 132 in 2014.

Doorings can be deadly. In separate dooring incidents in Quebec, two cyclists were killed in 2013 and another in 2014.

In Britain last year, transport secretary Chris Grayling hit a cyclist after he opened his door without looking.

"Very few people are homicidal maniacs and want to kill people; they just don't look," said Angelo DiCicco, general manager for the GTA with Young Drivers of Canada. "Once they've slammed into park, their brain is already across the street at Tim Hortons."

The Dutch way

One way to make drivers look? The so-called Dutch reach.

If you're on the driver side, you simply open your door with your right hand instead of your left. If you're on the passenger side, say on a one-way street, then you open with your left.

"I've been teaching it for 15 years," DiCicco said. "If you're the driver, using your right hand forces your shoulders to pivot to the left which will remind you to do a left blind-spot check before you open the door, because there will be a jogger or a cyclist or one of those rickshaw guys."

In May, Massachusetts added the manoeuvre to its driver's manual. We couldn't find it in any provincial manuals. Questions about whether it might be added weren't immediately answered.

There's also a more complicated version of the reach where the driver rolls down the window and opens the door from the outside.

When in doubt, shoulder check

But, while it's widely perceived as Dutch, opening the door with the other hand is not mandatory there, although looking before opening the door is.

"Most driving schools are teaching this to their students, but it's not compulsory in Holland to open the door the Dutch way," Geerlig van Olst, a driving instructor in Amsterdam, told Globe Drive in an e-mail. "Before you get out of the car, you [must] check your rear-view mirror, left mirror and look over the left shoulder."

DiCicco said the shoulder check is necessary because side-view mirrors might not be set up to show cyclists.

And when you get back into your car, you should be facing traffic so you can see who's coming before you open your door.

"We say to approach the vehicle counter-clockwise," DiCicco said. "It's all common sense, but it ain't so common any more; we're not seeing the same transference of motor vehicle skills from one generation to the next."

Cyclists should also avoid the "door zone" when they can by riding at least a metre away from parked vehicles, Cycle Toronto said.

Higher penalties, fewer charges?

In 2015, Ontario increased the fine for dangerously opening a door under Section 165 of the Highway Traffic Act (HTA). It rose from $60 and no demerits to $365 and three demerits.

But of the 209 reports of dooring in Toronto in 2016, only about 30 per cent led to tickets or warnings.

"This is a potentially life-altering collision type that's not being fully enforced by police, and that's certainly a problem," Kolb said.

Kolb says part of the problem is that the province took dooring off its motor vehicle accident report. Cycle Toronto wants it put back.

"Now officers pull up their collision sheet and dooring is not there," Kolb said. "So they have to report it as a special incident on a special sheet."

In 2015, the most recent year with Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) statistics, there were 64 dooring convictions across Ontario. That's down from 95 in 2014 and 121 in 2013.

A better solution to dooring might be separating cyclists from the doors.

"Toronto has 55,000 kilometres of road and just 20 kilometres of protected bike lanes," Kolb said. "Where protected bike lanes have been installed, rates of dooring are non-existent."

Have a driving question? Send it to Canada's a big place, so please let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.

Shopping for a new car? Check out the new Globe Drive Build and Price Tool to see the latest discounts, rebates and rates on new cars, trucks and SUVs. Click here to get your price.​​