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The Door Zone Debate

I would like to comment on pending legislation affecting bicyclists (prompted by a helpful email from Bill Nesper from the League of American Bicyclists). Specifically, a section has been added to the Vehicle Code that would define a “Door Zone as the section of the street next to a parked vehicle where, if one or more doors of the vehicle were opened, it would be unsafe for passing bicycles.

Apparently the Vehicle Code is silent on this specific definition, and so is the part of the code that defines where cyclists should ride. (Generally, it’s as far to the right of the road as safe, or in a posted bike lane.)

This door zone statute would broaden the legal zones so that when approaching parked cars, cyclists could ride further into the road. Practically, this may prove helpful if hit from an advancing motorist because it would eliminate the insurance companies’ argument that you were at fault for riding wide.

Realistically, as too many of us know, parked motorists inattentively fling open car doors and often seriously injure cyclists. Since it’s hard to foresee this,the door zone statute would add more legal protection to cyclists than many state vehicle codes say. For example, the California code says:

No person shall open the door of a vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless it is reasonably safe to do so and can be done without interfering with the movement of such traffic, nor shall any person leave a door open on the side of a vehicle available to moving traffic for a period of time longer than necessary to load or unload passengers.

Conversely, the insurance industry might argue that if you failed to ride out of the door zone you’re partially at fault (since you had an “option”). So, I suggest further amending the legislation and closing this loophole. For example, add “However, riding in the door zone shall not be construed as assuming the risk of of injury.” I’m sure we al agree cyclists have the right to assume the good conduct of parked motorists.

Let’s face it, when fighting for justice, legislation is a mighty sword when confronting the powerful insurance industry. I hope this debate raises both motorists’ and cyclists’ safety awareness.