The laws of car doors
He never really told me many benefits of soy milk. He simply explained all the horrible things that he believed happened when cows are milked, and which apparently slopped out of the carton and onto my breakfast.
I wouldn’t normally mind, but he explained all this while I was making my breakfast. Which I quite looked forward to after steaming in for half an hour on my bike. And which is in the running for my favourite meal of the day anyway.
When I finally snapped that I had biked to work and was hungry, the same colleague told me he too had been a regular cyclist, until he rode one day into a narrow gap between a bus and some parked cars. Someone in a parked car opened their door. He crashed into the door and was hurt pretty badly.
It never occurred to me that there might be rules about this sort of thing. But a regular reader, Elliot, has pointed out that the person in the parked car might have committed an offence. I thought I’d check it out.
Opening car doors
It turns out that it’s an offence to open “any door of a vehicle on a road so as to injure or endanger any person”. If you’re cycling along and someone opens a car door in your path, they may commit this offence (and be liable to a fine of up to £1000). (RVCUR r. 105; RTA s. 42; RTOA Sch 2)
There are a few details which are worth bearing in mind:
- There doesn’t have to be a crash for the offence to be committed – it’s an offence to injure someone who is riding past by opening a car door, but it’s also an offence simply to endanger them (for example if they have to swerve to avoid a crash).
- The offence isn’t limited to drivers - so a passenger who opens a car door so as to injure or endanger a cyclist could commit the offence.
- It also isn’t limited to cars, but seems to apply to any vehicle which is on a road and which has a door.
If someone does open their car door and injures or endangers you on your bike, they won’t automatically have committed an offence – it will depend on the circumstances. For example, it might depend on whether their actions caused the injury or danger, or whether there was some other cause. They might say that you were riding too close, or weren’t paying attention, and that’s what caused the accident.
It also might depend on whether the person who opened the door looked behind them properly first. If they did check for cyclists, they might argue that they weren’t at fault. At the moment it’s not actually clear whether fault is required for the offence (the courts have so far ducked the question), but a no-fault scenario would probably make the case more complicated. (Sever v Duffy  RTR 429)
What if this happens to you?
If you crash into a car door on your bike, the driver of the car has to give his name and address if you ask for it (as well as the car’s registration number). If he refuses he will commit an additional offence, which is more straightforward and more serious than the car door offence (and may therefore be of more interest to the police). (RTA s. 170(2), (4); RTOA Sch 2; Jones v Prothero  1 All ER 434; Dawson v Winter  49 TLR 128)
If the police don’t attend the scene, but you want to take the matter further, you’ll need to report the incident yourself. It will help if you have as much detail as possible about the car and driver, and also the details of witnesses.
Be aware though that it can sometimes be difficult to get the police to act, even with this information. The Cycling Lawyer has written at length about problems he’s had in persuading the police to pursue an offender, although it seems that his story might now have a happy ending.
This is obviously one of those situations where prevention is better than cure. There’s no perfect solution, but it’s worth bearing in mind the risk and (if you can) riding far enough clear of parked cars to avoid any sudden surprises.
Luckily my colleague who crashed into a door eventually recovered. He hasn’t ridden again though. I’ve since changed jobs, so I don’t know whether he’s still actively pursuing a soy agenda. Personally I’m as yet unconvinced – and I have heard that horrible things can happen when soys are milked…
Photo: edit by UKcyclerules from a photo by GarySe7en from here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/garyseven/4864758261/. Rights restrictions as original.