“Dooring” Bill — Yes, it is About the Bike

The session hasn’t even started and one of my bills is getting a fair amount of PR, both positive and negative.  In a Post article, SB 736 was referenced as “quirky” and then was impliedly relegated to the “stupid” pile by some important people down here.

Actually, it’s pretty logical.  It simply states that a driver, who is opening a car door near moving traffic, must be accountable for any accidents caused by that open door.

Why is this relevant?  Am I restricting personal freedom?  Common sense?

No, it’s about safety.  As bike lanes become more prevalent in our urban areas, “dooring” has become a major threat to cyclists.  It’s a threat because there is no way to prevent accidents and serious injuries.

A “dooring” occurs when a bicyclist is legally traveling down a bike lane or a roadway (not a sidewalk).  A driver’s side door way is thrown open, causing a collision and sending the bicyclist flying over the handle bars.  Permanent injuries or even death can occur from an accident that might otherwise appear innocuous.

Right now, the driver is not at fault.  They are permitted to open the car door at their discretion.  There is no law to find them negligent of causing the injury.

My bill would change that by shifting the responsibility to drivers to open their doors safely — and otherwise keep them closed — when there is oncoming traffic.   The maximum civil penalty for a violation ($100) is not large but the law will do two additional things:  (i) raise awareness that “dooring” is illegal and (ii) shift legal responsibility to the driver if there are injuries and property damages from a “dooring” accident.

Since drivers are in the best position to avoid “dooring” accidents, that is only fair.  Incidentally, over 20 states, including Maryland and D.C., already have this law.

Now that I’ve explained it — is it really all that quirky?


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  • Whitney Wilson

    Its not quirky at all. I assume it would also be applicable if you opened your door and a car ran into it? Under current law, is that also a protected event?

  • Anonymous

    well.. it sounds redundant – truthfully. Sometimes, it seems that … I’m trying to be not ugly here.. that we have too many bills that are more “statements” of support for a particular interest group than real solutions to real issues.

    As Whitney pointed out… anytime you open your car door.. it could impact others but a special bill just for bikes? geeze!

    I think.. and again.. I apologize in advance…that this kind of thing can cause reactions that end up being divisive … we want legislation that both (for instance) the biking community and others deem as “needed” rather than something the biking community wants almost as a symbolic statement of their “right” to use the public road network.

    the biking community activists want more.. it’s understandable… but this can end up being interpreted as polarizing and divisive…. IMHO – and I can change my opinion if I hear a good counter argument.

    • Thomas Bowden

      Larry – It’s not just for cyclists, and it’s just common sense. You should look before you open your door into traffic. Just like you look both ways before crossing or stepping off the curb. The reason cyclists support this bill is because they are the most vulnerable. If a car hits your door, it’s a trip to the body shop. If a cyclist hits your door, it’s a trip to the ER, or maybe the morgue, in a body bag.

      • http://twitter.com/tbailsh Tess Ailshire

        Bicyclists should also look at traffic. Back a hundred years ago when I learned to ride a bike, I was taught to scan traffic (as I do now on my motorcycle!) and look for obstacles – including cars with people inside, who could open doors.

        I oppose putting all the responsibility onto the driver. BOTH have responsibility, but this bill seems not to acknowledge that. After the number of times I’ve nearly been T-boned in Alexandria by bicyclists who can’t be bothered with CURRENT laws …

        And frankly, not only of benefit to bicyclists … I drive by a high school often in the morning, and students don’t seem to care there’s passing traffic when they jump out. Doesn’t mean there should be a law.

        In short, just because someone says “there oughta be a law …” doesn’t mean the legislature needs to act on it.

  • Anne P.

    Because cyclists are not mind-readers, we are not in a real position to avoid these kinds of accidents. Therefore, I think it makes sense to assign responsibility to the driver, who is in the best position to avoid harming the cyclist. All they have to do is to take a look before flinging a big heavy door in a cyclist’s path. It’s really not asking a lot of drivers, is it?

  • Anonymous

    yeah… I “get” it… I just seems like we have a zillion laws…sometimes.

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  • John

    I was not aware that I was allowed to “door” them. I cannot wait to try this out and claim “whoops, my bad”! LOL

  • John

    I was not aware that I was allowed to “door” them. I cannot wait to try this out and claim “whoops, my bad”! LOL

    • Guest

      John – Better watch out. If Mr. Petersen thinks you are criticizing him (heaven forbid) he will cut you off his website so no one else can see that someone is actually criticizing him. After all, that is the Virginia way – at least in the state legislature. There are still in the 1800′s.

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  • Allen Muchnick

    Thanks, Chap, for sponsoring this simple and common sense legislation, which refers only to “traffic”, not “bicycles”. It’s only “quirky” if you hate bicyclists.

    • Jdoe

      Mr. Muchick – You should know that Mr. Petersen voted against the Ignition Interlock legislation that could save lives and prevent injuries by preventing drunk drivers from driving while intoxicated. So if you’re really interested in public safety, you might want to inquire why Mr. Petersen did so. Makes no sense to me. This bill is kind of quirky and efforts should really go where they are needed. Besides — who will really enforce this and how?
      Seems like a waste of time to me.

  • Howard Katz

    Am glad to see that you are beginning to think about public safety but my real question is what are you doing to curb drunk driving in our community? Never received an answer to that question and any meaningful action would save lives and prevent injuries more so than opening car doors. Let’s focus on saving people’s lives and what really matters. By the way – I do really offer you my condolenses on the loss of your dad this past year. Hopefully you learned how precious life really — unfortunately – the hard way. Hope you can change your stripes for the future.

  • Greglawrichmond

    But wouldn’t they already be civilly liable?

    • Anonymous

      that’s what I thought also. but with this, it would be a criminal offense also, right?

    • Harry

      No, because under existing law bikes are classified the same as cars. So legally, if a bike collides with a car door, it’s treated as a vehicle on vehicle accident, where the person hitting the other car is liable.

      Unfortunately the solution isn’t as simple as just taking bikes out of the same category as cars, because the existing law affords bikes a lot of rights (riding in traffic, car accidents, etc…).

  • http://twitter.com/tbailsh Tess Ailshire

    Until you stated you were catering to special-interest groups, I was willing to put this down simply to do-gooder legislation. Now it appears even worse, in my opinion.

  • Jdoe

    I wish you would stop deleting my comments just because they make you look stupid and self serving. That’s all you’re doing on this blog. Why you voted against the ignition interlock legislation that could save lives and prevent injuries to others from the reckless actions of DUI offenders is beyond me – and should be to all of your constituents.

  • Maggie

    In answer to your question about whether or not your bill criminalizing opening a car door is quirky. I would answer this: No, it’s not quirky. It’s an irresponsible piece of fluff. You should be embarrassed, and I, I shall remain disgusted at your trivialization of the legislative process.

    • VA Rider

      You’re mischaracterizing Chap’s bill. If you took a couple of seconds to read the text of the bill, you’d see that this isn’t “criminalizing” opening your car door, but rather making sure people are careful when they do it. A good bill is one that reasonably solves an existing problem. Do you not agree that a bicyclist riding in a legal fashion can get hit by a car door and be found liable is a problem? You should talk to some of your bicyclist friends and neighbors.

  • Travis7davidson

    Great Bill. Thanks for looking out and bringing common sense and courtesy into our law books.

  • http://opusthepoet.wordpress.com/ Opus the Poet

    The issue here is that cyclists can’t tell if there is a driver about to open the door in many cars because of high seatbacks, tinted windows or no side windows at all in many vans obstructing the view of the driver by the cyclist. Drivers on the other hand have rear-view mirrors mounted on the doors on 99% of the motor vehicles on the roads, meaning they can see us coming long before we can see them opening the door. And this isn’t just an issue for bicyclists, a fair number of motorcyclists are doored around the world every year. And has been pointed out, door prizes can result in fatalities as cyclists are knocked out of control and with9ut warning into the path of other traffic to their left (that may be the reason the cyclist is in the door zone in the first place). I should also point out that I have been lucky enough to not be doored, mainly because there is so little on-street parking where I live.

    • Anonymous

      true.. but is this a willful irresponsible act or an accident? Can you truly say that
      you have never failed to check your mirror – in traffic?

      if you pulled out and a car hit you – would you also have a special law for that?

      • http://opusthepoet.wordpress.com/ Opus the Poet

        It is a willful irresponsible act. Opening a door into traffic in such a way as it causes death or serious injury is caused by NOT LOOKING. Motor vehicles are the most deadly things e use every day, and more should be done to impress that upon the minds of users that what they do COULD KILL SOMEONE. It’s actually easier to kill “accidentally” with a car than it is deliberately with a gun. I’ll let you look up the links to the FBI and CDC reports on gun deaths, but the gist of the combined reports is that a person has a 0.45% chance of dying every time someone pull a trigger to kill someone, death by motor vehicle is a 5% chance at 20 MPH rising to a near-certainty above 50 MPH (>99.9%). “Accidents” are unforeseeable events, opening a door into traffic without looking is highly foreseeable as having potential negative consequences.

        • Anonymous

          ” opening a door into traffic without looking is highly foreseeable as having potential negative consequences.”


          but I can see a lot of other acts that fall into that same category.

          I’m not opposing this as much as I am asking that if you use this same criteria – won’t it result in hundreds of more “laws”?

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