How the ‘Dutch Reach’ Could Protect Urban Cyclists

For bicyclists cruising in the bike lane, every parked car carries a lurking, hidden threat: “dooring,” when someone opens a car door right in a bike’s path.

Such incidents can cause serious injuries or death, and cyclists are powerless to stop them. It’s up to drivers to share the road and look out for the safety of cyclists.

Many drivers don’t think about cyclists when they swing their car doors open. But for cyclists riding along the bike lane — or the road, in areas without a dedicated bike lane — this can create an unexpected hazard that’s difficult to avoid, especially when traffic closes off an escape route.

Some states have actually instituted dooring laws, which require drivers to exercise caution when opening car doors. But many drivers still don’t understand quite what that involves.

Fortunately, The Netherlands, known to some as the capital of cycling, offers a successful model. Cycling is incredibly popular for commuting, leisure and sport in a nation that’s deliberately built a cycling-friendly landscape filled with dedicated bike paths and other infrastructure.

But cars still share the road, and somehow drivers have managed to avoid turning a nation of cyclists into an epidemic of dooring — all because of a simple tactic called the “Dutch reach.”

When you’re ready to open your car door, take your far hand — the right, in left-hand drive countries — and place it on the door handle, twisting your body. Check your side mirror for cyclists, and continue to turn so you can visualize the road around your car before opening the door. If it’s clear, hop out!

In the Netherlands, many people learn this technique as they’re being taught how to drive, and a growing number of cycling safety groups want to make it standard elsewhere as well.

It might seem cumbersome at first, but the Dutch reach becomes second nature — and if your passengers wonder what the heck you’re doing, it’s a good educational opportunity.

This simple move doesn’t take too much time, but it could prevent a cyclist from experiencing an unpleasant day — or a catastrophic accident. Even if your state doesn’t have a law specifically requiring drivers to exercise care when entering and exiting vehicles, it’s common sense — particularly if you share the road with narrow bike lanes, or if cars and cycles use the same lane.

Be conscious that while cyclists are treated like drivers for the purpose of traffic laws — they can occupy a whole lane, they must comply with road signs and they’re subject to right of way laws — they’re much more vulnerable.

If you rarely — or never — ride a bike, staying bicycle-aware makes your community safer for those who do use bikes to commute or have fun, and modeling good behavior teaches other drivers to do the same.

And if you haven’t been riding, now might be a good time to hit up a local bike shop or community bike group, many of which teach road safety classes for cyclists who are a little nervous about dealing with traffic.

Photo Credit: Murillo de Paula/Unsplash

34 comments

heather g
heather g24 days ago

They're more mindful and less self-absorbed...

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Danuta W
Danuta W1 months ago

Thanks for sharing

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Peggy B
Peggy B1 months ago

I agree with Lorraine A

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Lorraine Andersen
Lorraine A1 months ago

Great idea My son was an avid cyclist and I know that the Canada and the US are not set up or geared for it so not all that safe.

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Sherry Kohn
Sherry K1 months ago

Many thanks to you !

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Carole R
Carole R1 months ago

Don't know about this. Sounds good but too many US drivers have little patience these days. Road rage is at an all time high.

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Bronwyn B
Bronwyn B1 months ago

Making this a standard for people to learn this technique as they’re being taught how to drive is the way to go!

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Cruel J
Cruel J2 months ago

I don't see this catching on in the US as most drivers don't like sharing the road with each other, much less bicycles.

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Colin C
Colin C2 months ago

Yes I have stood on a street corner in Holland amazed at how car, cyclists and buses all seem to flow with no hassles

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Janet B
Janet B2 months ago

Thanks

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