by Cedric Hughes, Barrister & Solicitor with regular weekly contributions from Leslie McGuffin, LL.B.   

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Look before Opening Your Car Door

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Summer is finally here which means more cyclists on Vancouver streets—fair-weather cyclists often less experienced than the stalwarts who ride year-round. More carefree cyclists pedaling past more rows of parked cars: is this image idyllic or ominous for you? Whether you identify with the cyclist or with the driver about to exit one of the cars, you would be wise to have a twinge of foreboding. A door suddenly and unexpectedly opened directly into the path of a moving cyclist can cause much grief for both parties to such an accident. The start of summer is, therefore, a good time to remind drivers about the motor vehicle rules concerning opening car doors.

Section 203 of the British Columbia Motor Vehicle Act (MVA) entitled, “When opening door prohibited" states that a person must not open the door of a motor vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so. It then goes on to say that a person must not leave a door open on the side of a vehicle available to moving traffic for longer than is necessary to load or unload passengers.

This is one of those common sense rules that shouldn’t have to be set out in law, a version of “Look before you leap" and “Better safe than sorry." Of course we should look both ways when we open the car door. No one wants to seriously injure or kill a cyclist when they open a car door. And apart from injuring a cyclist, there could be a too close car, truck or bus right there ready to injure you. But we’re in a hurry, we have a lot on our minds, we open the door automatically, without looking, and 99% of the time, there’s no problem—which only reinforces our lack of vigilance. As Voltaire put it, “Le sens commun n'est pas si commun" —Common sense is not so common.

But this type of accident is so common that cyclists have a name for it. They call it being “doored." Road safety websites for cyclists describe how not to get the “door prize."

For the most part, the road safety rules for cyclists are the same as for drivers. Cyclists must obey the same rules as drivers, and have the same rights. When riding at speeds less than the normal speed of traffic, a cyclist should nominally stay to the right, either in a bike lane, or near the right side of the roadway. The roadway is that portion of the road used for vehicular travel, so there is no requirement to ride on a shoulder or to weave in between parked cars, or to ride in an area marked for parking when no cars are parked there. The "stay to the right" and bike lane rules have numerous exceptions, including preparing for a left turn, avoiding debris or other hazards, passing slower cyclists or vehicles, and approaching a place where a right turn is permitted. The latter exception includes driveways, not just intersections. Cyclists have to ride in the same direction as vehicular traffic, both on and off the roadway (e.g., when on a shoulder), but this requirement does not apply on sidewalks. Riding on a sidewalk may be subject to local regulations. Lights and reflectors must be used at night.

Cyclists are urged to watch for potential hazards, to scan the road 100 feet ahead for debris, tracks, drains or potholes. They are advised to allow time to maneuver around these hazards and negotiate with traffic. To minimize the risk of being doored, they are advised to ride in a straight line three feet out from parked cars and not to weave in and out of spaces between the parked cars so that they remain more visible to other drivers. Likewise, they are advised to scan the rear windows of parked cars for occupants and to “assume the worst," that is that these occupants are about to open the door into their cycle path. They are cautioned that tinted windows compound the risk and told to assume that all such vehicles are occupied.

If cyclists are doing their part to minimize this risk, what can you as a driver do to remind yourself to always “look before you open?" The Canadian Automobile Association has created decals saying, “Watch for Bikes" for the bottom of the exterior mirror on the driver’s side. The mirror, with the decal applied, acts as a visual reminder. One way or another, it is important to develop this essential safety habit.

Cedric Hughes of Hughes and Company Law Corporation with contributions from Leslie McGuffin, LL.

Cedric Hughes

huges & company law corporation vancouver


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