Earlier this month, Massachusetts became the first state to advocate for the “Dutch Reach” by adding it to their Driver’s Education Manual and adopting it to the driver’s ed curriculum. The Dutch Reach is a simple method that aims to eliminate crashes between bicyclists and vehicles caused by “dooring.”
Dooring occurs when a parked motorist opens their car door into the path of a bicyclist, causing the bicyclist to crash into said door. The likelihood of getting doored is high anywhere there are parked cars, even if there is bicycle infrastructure. Bicycle lanes that run alongside parked cars are particularly dangerous if they’re in the door zone because even if a bicyclist has time to swerve away from an opening door, a quick movement could cause a crash with another vehicle in the lane nearby.
According to the League of American Bicyclists’ Smart Cycling Manual, “Many local crash studies find that dooring—when a motorist opens his or her door into the path of a bicyclist—is a much bigger issue than the national data suggests.”
Studies in New York City and Chicago have noted that there can be as many as one dooring per day in these big cities.
Although the issue has not been thoroughly studied, dooring often results in serious and occasionally fatal encounters. New York City attempted to combat this problem by running a campaign called “LOOK!” back in 2012 targeted at taxi passengers. The program distributed stickers, which were placed on the window of taxis reminding passengers to check for cyclists before opening their doors.
The Dutch Reach is a method of opening one’s door with the hand opposite of the door, this simple technique naturally requires one to look back and check for oncoming bicyclists and thus easily preventing these incidents that can often result in serious injuries and even death. With the rise of Uber, Lyft and other ride share services as well as more people on bicycles, something like the Dutch Reach campaign may be a more effective means of preventing such crashes by changing people’s behaviors rather than reminding them to check their surroundings.
The Dutch Reach gets its name from the Netherlands, often considered the safest place in the world for bicycles. According to the Boston Globe, “almost every major street features separated bike lanes, bike-specific traffic lights, bike highways, and yield signs…” While well-designed infrastructure is part of the Netherlands’ success, educated bicyclists and motorists make the key difference. In the Netherlands, children start to bicycle in traffic early on, thus developing safe bicycling habits. In fact, bicycle education is incorporated into their curriculum, something that is optional in the United States. At around twelve years old, children take both a written and practical exam to receive their bike diploma. Once these children become drivers, they have learned the rules of the road from both a bicyclists’ and a motorists’ perspective and know to be aware of bicyclists as well as others with whom they share the street. The Dutch Reach is another part of this traffic safety curriculum, ensuring that not only do people have proper bicycling skills, but also aware driving skills. In the Netherlands, if you open your door the way we often do here, you will fail your driver’s test. 
So, how does one do the Dutch Reach?
Regardless of whether you are a driver or a passenger, make this simple habit change to create a safer environment for other vehicles:
- Use the hand furthest from the door to open it.
- Reach across your body to grab the handle.
- Turn and look back, notice if there is anyone coming.
- Once the road is clear, open your door.
- Practice and remind yourself with a ribbon on the door handle to break the habit of opening car doors carelessly!
The Dutch Reach Project has videos showing how to do the reach, more information about it and an advocacy toolkit to help local communities as well as bicycle and pedestrian resource centers effectively advocate for a change in policy promoting the practice of the Dutch Reach.