Dooring accidents: Your rights as a cyclist

The number of cyclists on Australian roads continues to grow as people look for alternative methods of transport to get them to work, school, or simply from one location to another. Road users must share the road, and be aware of cyclists and the potential for injury to cyclists.

Dooring is just one of the many hazards cyclists need to watch out for when riding on Australian roads. Also known as ‘cyclist-vehicle door opening crashes’, dooring refers to a cyclist being struck by a car door being opened into their path. Between 2011 and 2016, there were 771 recorded dooring accidents in Victoria alone. Of these, two were fatalities and almost 200 involved serious injuries.

Who's at fault?

The person opening the door into an oncoming cyclist is responsible for any damage they’ve caused. This isn’t always the driver of the vehicle – it could be a passenger.

It sounds like a simple open and shut case. But, in reality, fault isn’t always accepted quite so easily.

For example, a driver might deny being at fault if they believe their door was already open and the cyclist rode into it. The insurer can then deny any liability to avoid paying damages.

On the other hand, some people simply don't believe they're to blame for the accident. We represented a cyclist, Peter*, who was involved in a dooring accident on Melbourne's busy Lygon Street. The passenger responsible for opening the door simply believed he "didn't do anything wrong".

However, dooring is illegal, and all drivers and passengers have a responsibility to exit their vehicles safely.

What to do if you’re injured in a dooring accident

  1. The first and most important thing to do is seek medical help if needed.
     
  2. Exchange details with the person who opened the car door, including their contact details and vehicle registration number.

    Unfortunately, our client Peter didn’t collect any details. As there was no property damage or immediate signs of injury, he didn’t think it was necessary. He simply brushed himself off and continued with his day.
     
    Lots of people make this mistake. Although you might be focused on your injuries or your bike, getting the details of the driver or passenger who opened the door can help you down the track.
     
  3. Get the details of any independent witnesses to the incident, just in case there are future disputes about what happened.
     
  4. Make a report to the police. It was only after several days when, having felt a little unwell and in some pain since the accident, Peter went to his local police station to report the incident.
     
  5. Make a claim with your state’s statutory insurer (for example, the Transport Accident Commission (TAC) in Victoria) as soon as possible after the incident.

    The TAC doesn’t require fault to be assigned to a driver to provide compensation, so Peter – despite not having the liable person’s details – could continue with his claim.
     
    With medical intervention, he discovered he needed a shoulder reconstruction. Incidentally, shoulder injuries are the most common for cyclists after a dooring accident.
     
  6. Seek legal advice. With our assistance through the claims process, Peter's surgery and rehabilitation costs were covered and he received loss of wages and lump sum compensation. This is helping him navigate life with a permanent injury.

Cyclists should stay vigilant

While the onus of dooring accidents is on the drivers and passengers of vehicles, as a cyclist you need to stay vigilant about your safety as a vulnerable road user. This is especially important around busy areas, like shopping strips and schools.

You might also want to consider taking out insurance. While you don’t legally need to have insurance or registration to ride on the roads in any state in Australia, we recommend taking out cyclist insurance. This will cover any damage to property (including your bike), as your state's statutory insurer only covers personal injuries.

Organisations like Bicycle Network and Cycling Australia have insurance attached to their membership.

Drivers to pay more attention

It’s time to increase awareness about the dangers of dooring.

We’re calling for more driver training on opening car doors safely. One method we advocate is called the Dutch Reach (named for its origin in one of the world’s most cyclist-friendly nations).

Simply open your car door using the hand that’s furthest from the door. That is, if you’re the driver, use your left hand. In doing this, your body naturally rotates towards the door, giving you an extra chance to check whether cyclists are coming.

In the Netherlands, this method forms part of driving tests and is taught to children both at school and by their parents.

It would be great to see this behavioural change ingrained into all Australian road users.

* Real name has been changed.

TOPIC: Road rights
RELATED LEGAL SERVICES: Road accident injuries

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