Cycling solicitor James Pritchard is calling on motorists to adopt a simple technique that he says could save lives and avoid countless horrific “dooring” accidents every year.
The manoeuvre – known as “Dutch Reach” because it started in the Netherlands – involves opening the car door with the opposite hand to the one you usually would, giving you a better view of the road and more chance of spotting a bike.
James, a keen cyclist and personal injury expert, believes its widespread use would dramatically reduce the number of accidents caused by car doors opening into the path of a cyclist.
Opening car doors in this way is part of the driving test in the Netherlands and is such a natural part of motoring behaviour that it doesn’t even have a name. The term Dutch Reach was coined in the United States, where its popularity is increasing rapidly.
James, of Macks Solicitors in Middlesbrough, and who specialises in recovering compensation for bikers who are injured, hopes it will become equally common practice here.
“Sadly, I have to deal with far too many incidents involving car doors which have caused very nasty and sometimes life-changing injuries,” he said. “This move is a life-saver, I have no doubt about it at all.
“Every year more than 19,000 cyclists are injured or killed on our roads and I’m convinced this would take a significant chunk out of that figure. Dutch Reach has recently come to prominence in America.
“When I first heard the term through the Stockton branch of the Hub cycling project I was intrigued about what it might mean but I’m genuinely excited about the potential contribution it could make to road safety over here.
“For something so simple to be so effective is incredible and I hope that one day it will become part of our driving tests, too.”
If the Dutch Reach became routine it would reduce what cyclists have come to fear as one of the biggest dangers of everyday life on Britain’s roads. Up to date numbers are difficult to come by but government statistics reveal that 594 cyclists were hurt in incidents involving car doors in 2011, a significant rise from the 2009 figure of 468.
James has started using the technique himself and is keen to spread the word about its simplicity and effectiveness.
He said: “By turning your body and head and looking back you have such a better perspective of the road and can see if a cyclist is passing. It makes you wonder how you would ever notice a cyclist opening a car door the ‘normal’ way.
“I showed it to my wife, mum and dad and they all think it is brilliant and have started using it. Riders must feel a whole lot safer in the Netherlands – I would love to think that before too long this will be the case here as well.”
The Highway Code states that motorists must not endanger cyclists as they open their vehicle’s door. Under the 1988 Road Traffic Act it is an offence to open “any door of a vehicle on a road so as to injure or endanger any person”, with a maximum fine of £1,000.
Cycling pressure groups have called on the police and Crown Prosecution Service to take for stronger action against offenders.
Keen cyclist Graham Bell, from Northallerton, North Yorkshire, said: “I really hope the idea of the Dutch Reach catches on over here. I’ve come very close to being knocked off by car doors myself, and anything that improves driver awareness has to be welcomed.”
Road safety charity Brake’s Road Safety Week takes place from November 21 until November 27. It will encourage drivers to pledge to take positive action to improve road safety.