My second worst injury on a bike happened a number of years ago when I caught a car door to the chest. I was riding with a friend of mine and we were chatting as one does when riding with a good friend. We had just come through an intersection. The next thing I knew I was on the ground struggling to breath.
It turns out someone parked on the side of the street had kicked their door open just as I was riding by. The edge of the car door hit my handlebars nearly dead center. The impact sent me chest first into the upper corner of the door. I hit the corner of the door so hard, the rounded metal edge cut through my jersey and base layer. I now have a scar under my right arm to remind me of what turned out to be a less than stellar ride.
The Door Zone Defined
The door zone is the space four feet out from a parked car. Unfortunately, that is also the width of a standard bike lane here in California. Considering there is generally no buffer area between the edge of a parked car and the inside of a bike lane, I question the logic of the traffic engineer who came up with that standard.
To see a silver lining to that otherwise grey cloud, at least a bike lane clearly defines the door zone. When riding in an area without a bike lane project an imagined bike lane on the ground. Simply keep to the outer edge of that area. You will likely avoid any surprise doors that may open in your path.
Striking a balance
While I knew people who had been doored, until that day I wasn’t too mindful of the door zone. State law mandated that I rode as closely to the curb as possible. I was also not one to impede traffic by taking the lane. Since then however, I have changed the way I ride. The reality is, a car door can be just as deadly.
I now ride with a constant eye on parked cars. A quick glance in a driver side rear view mirror reveals if anyone is sitting in a parked car. Never ride up next to cars parked on the side of the road unless it is obvious that the vehicle is unoccupied. I tend to ride further into the lane now, staying aware of the traffic behind me. Unfortunately with distracted drivers, you can’t trust if they are going to notice you or not.
It’s an interesting fact that California Vehicle Code puts the party who opens the door into traffic at fault, but few people look before opening a door into traffic. I always look over my shoulder before opening a door. Of course this is due to the fact that I have caught a door to the chest. The best way to avoid such an accident is to stay out the area where a door can open. As always, stay safe out there and keep the rubber side down!