SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — A simple switch of the hand while getting out of the car can save bicyclists’ lives and reduce deadly ‘car doorings.’
It’s called the Dutch Reach, named after the country with more bikes per capita than any other in the world, where the maneuver has become a habit.
Over the last half century, Dutch drivers and passengers have retrained themselves to use the far hand to open the car door – not the one that’s closest. Reaching across for the handle forces the body to swivel and turn. It not only puts the rear view mirror into the line of sight, it also enables a person to look directly for oncoming bikes to see if the coast is clear.
So, reach, swivel, look out and back, and open slowly. There is no name for the maneuver in the Dutch language, but it’s ingrained in their normal driving habits.
“It’s just what Dutch people do,” said Fred Wegman in an interview with the New York Times. Wegman is professor emeritus of Traffic Safety at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. “All Dutch are taught it. It’s part of regular driver education,” he said.
According to Wegman, the far-hand method of opening car doors is catching on in many European countries. Now there is a push to bring it to U.S. cities where car doorings are cited as one of the top three causes of bicycle-vehicle collissions.
In San Francisco between 2012 and 2015, there were 203 bicycle-vehicle collisions caused by an opening car door into moving traffic, according to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA).
In 2016, the Dutch Reach Project was created by Dr. Michael Charney, after a Cambridge woman was killed in a car dooring accident. Since its inception, Massachusetts and Illinois now include the far-hand method in their driver’s manuals.
The Dutch Reach Project is trying to raise awareness, through a campaign of multi-lingual handouts, videos, posters and signage.
They have put together a Tool Kit with decals, cards and stickers drivers can place inside their cars. The Dutch Reach works for all passengers, whether they are exiting from the front or the back seats.
In addition to the stickers, Dr. Charney says drivers can attach a ribbon near the door latch to serve as a visual reminder, and help break the old habit of opening with the near hand.
Charney hopes the whole country will catch on.
“I had a hard time retooling myself,” he said. “But it’s a simple behavioral fix; if you do it, it works.”
For more information, visit www.dutchreach.org.