Despite being an increasingly common problem for cyclists, cycling accident claims for injuries sustained by cyclists being hit by car doors appears to receive very little publicity with only very few cases (comparable to the actual number of incidents) being heard by the Court.  What’s more, it is commonly accepted that numerous cyclists simply don’t report such incidents – particularly in cases where there are no injuries and/or damage sustained to the bike.

 

British associations such as Cycling UK have not only identified this particular issue but continue to raise awareness of what they refer to as “car-dooring” in a genuine pledge to save lives on Britain’s roads. Government figures captured between 2011 and 2015 show that eight cyclists died needlessly from carelessly opened car doors; thus reiterating the need for further awareness – both with new and existing drivers.

 

 

Indeed, in response to such campaigns, the Department of Transport have now agreed to consider new messages on cycle safety as part of their “Think!” campaign and plans are certainly afoot for the “Dutch reach” (which involves opening doors with the “wrong” hand) to be taught to all new drivers.

 

Originating some 50 years ago, the “Dutch Reach” is simply a method of opening a car door with the hand furthest away from the handle.  So, in the UK this means the left hand of the driver, or the right hand of the passenger.  This means that the person opening the door has to physically turn their body towards it, thus affording the opportunity to look over their shoulder and check for any oncoming traffic.  It is a simple concept yet extremely effective and is even taught as part of the driving test in the Netherlands – something which British campaigners now believe should be introduced across the UK.

 

 

FAQ About Cyclists Hitting Car Doors:

 

What Are Current Remedies Available To Cyclists?

Unfortunately, recent case law has led to much debate over whether the current penalties are high enough. Earlier this year, Loughborough Magistrates Court ordered a taxi driver, whose passenger knocked a cyclist off his bike, was only fined £300.00 despite this resulting in a fatality.

 

The circumstances in this particular case were that the passenger was exiting a taxi cab near Leicester railway station when the passenger door hit a 26-year old cyclist, Sam Boulton (a local school teacher who was cycling to work on his birthday).  Whilst, in his defence the driver denied permitting the opening of a vehicle door so as to injure or endanger a person, he was nevertheless found guilty since the Court agreed he had been “neglectful of his duties”.  The driver was also ordered to pay £625.00 in prosecution costs and a £30 victim surcharge; despite having parked on double yellow lines.

 

The maximum fine for car-dooring is currently just £1,000.00 and with no penalty points – even if the victim is killed as a result.  Cycling UK continues to appeal this, stating that the fine fails to reflect the seriousness of the offence and perhaps gives some indication as to why so few cyclists report such incidents on the road.

 

 

What Does The Law Say On The Issue?

Rule 239 of the Highway Code states that motorists “MUST ensure you do not hit anyone when you open your door.  Check for cyclists or other traffic.”

 

However, this serves as guidance only and non-compliance of the Highway Code is not an offence.  That said, s.42 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 certainly DOES make it an offence to open “any door of a vehicle on a road so as to injure or endanger any person”; so this also includes a cyclist having to swerve in order to avoid contact with a car door and not necessarily sustain actual impact. For more info on cycling accident claims click here.

 

 

Contributory Negligence

Unfortunately, whilst it might seem obvious that passengers should check the road prior to opening their door, Courts will also consider contributory negligence i.e. whether or not the cyclist should have anticipated that a car door might be opened in their path.  This was something the Court were called to consider in the landmark case of John Burridge v. Airwork Limited (2004) wherein the Claimant cyclist was knocked into the road by a mini-bus door before being hit by another vehicle.  However, whilst the Defendant argued that the Claimant could have foreseen the accident, it was the Court’s view that this simply placed too high a standard on cyclists.

 

 

How To Make A Claim For Dooring

Any cyclist who suffers injury and/or equipment damage should most certainly seek legal advice with a view to making a claim.  Both the car driver and the passenger owe a duty of care to the cyclist and certainly breach that specific duty the very moment they open the door without taking adequate (and basic) precautions.

 

In all cases, any claim made by the cyclist should be directed to the driver’s insurance company for a full investigation.  This is likely to include consideration as to whether or not the passenger should also be held liable – for example, in cases where the driver had some sort of control over the passenger; as in the case of the taxi driver already mentioned.

 

Given that any claim of this nature is likely to involve a clear breach of the Highway Code and Road Traffic Act 1988, the most likely outcome is that the Court will make an award in favour of the cyclist.  However, Claimants should always be mindful of any counterclaim for contributory negligence – hence the recommendation to seek independent legal advice at the very soonest opportunity.  In the event this is accepted by the Court then the cyclist can almost certainly expect a reduction on the amount of compensation payable so it is well worth looking into. You can read further information regarding the law surrounding road traffic accidents here.