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Know what to do if you get doored

Photo of Christopher Seleski

Bike lanes are intended to protect from moving traffic, but when you’re cycling so close to parked cars, there is another hazard that’s equally dangerous. “Dooring,” a collision that happens when a motorist or passenger opens a door into oncoming bike traffic, is both a common and a costly accident. It’s also easily avoidable and cyclists are protected by New York City law.

Stats and dangers

Nationwide, roughly one in ten bike accidents is a dooring. Here in New York, a 1996-2005 study determined about three percent to be fatal. A swinging door can knock a cyclist into oncoming traffic, or the impact can cause other serious injuries that include broken bones, deep bruises and head trauma.

If it happens to you

Many of the same procedures apply in a bike-car collision as in motorized accidents. If a door swings open and you take a fall, follow the same process. The difference is your own coverage. In a car accident, you’d have auto insurance. Because bikes don’t, it’s essential that you protect yourself by getting proper documentation on the scene. Even if you avoid hitting the car itself but get hurt in a fall, the car may be at fault and it should be reported.

    • Stay on the scene, along with the driver.
    • Call the police to file a report.
    • Exchange information with the vehicle and with any witnesses. If the driver won’t talk, take down the license plate number.
    • Request that the police issue a citation to the driver.
    • Take photos of the scene, damage and injuries.
    • Visit a doctor to document injuries.
    • Do not negotiate with the driver or insurance company.

Liability and the law

Cyclists are protected from dooring incidents in the city. The driver or passenger is likely to deny responsibility, but New York City has dooring laws and also firm rules on where taxis can drop off and pick up customers. Taxis are required to follow basic parking rules that leave traffic flow uninterrupted, and general dooring rules prohibit opening doors and stepping into traffic. The law says your path should be clear and an open door is a violation.

“Share the road” means more than just being aware of a cyclist’s vulnerabilities. It means equal observation of the road and that the same procedures apply case of an accident. The steps for a motorist to avoid a dooring are simply and fast but it still happens too frequently. Considering the potential for serious injury, it’s important that cyclists know what to do if a door swings open in your path.

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