What should the Highway Code should say about 'car dooring'? (2024)

Update: 28 July 2020

Since this article first appeared, Cycling UK has been closely involved with the Department for Transport’s (DfT) pre-consultation on a review of the Highway Code.

The DfT has now announced an official consultation and we're pleased to say that many of the new rules we've suggestedare among the proposals. One of them is to includethe 'Dutch Reach' to help prevent 'car dooring' (see below).

But, to make these proposals a reality, it's vital that road users of all kinds write to the DfT to show their support. Otherwise, they could be dropped. Please help us make it happen! (Deadline 27 October 2020).

Support changes to make the Highway Code safer

Thank you.

Please read on for our original article.


There are 307 rules in the HC. Those saying ‘MUST’ or ‘MUST NOT’ relate to statute law, and breaching them is an offence. Infringing the other rules is not inherently criminal, but may be used in court to decide whether a more general offence has been committed (e.g. ‘careless’ or ‘dangerous’ driving, or obstruction of the highway), or whether civil liabilities have occurred (whether someone is owed compensation for injury or property damages).

Typically, the HC is fully reviewed every six or seven years, but there has been no comprehensive review since 2007, when Cycling UK’s campaigning led to 40 changes to the initial consultation draft. Although some changes to the Code have been made piecemeal, another revision is long overdue, not least because of the need to ensure that the rules take account of the increasing automation of vehicles, and of various changes which have been made to traffic signs and signals (many of which have provided welcome benefits for cycling).

While Cycling UK argues that a full review is needed, there are four specific recommendations for rule changes which are particularly important either for cycle safety, or to prevent people from being deterred from cycling. These cover ‘car dooring’ (which we discuss here), along with rules on overtaking distances, junction priority and removing prejudicial rules on helmets and hi-viz (we discuss these in other articles).

Note: theHighway Code(HC) applies in England, Scotland and Wales (GB). There is a separateHC in Northern Ireland(NI), which is based on the GB version.

The specific rules referred to in this articleare the same in both the GB and NI versions. Cycling UK’s recommendations on HC amendments are therefore relevant throughout the UK, but would need to be implemented separately in NI.

The offence

It is an offence to open, or cause or permit to be opened, a car door so as to injure or endanger anyone (section 105, The Roads Vehicles (Constructions and Use) Regulations 1986and section 42, Road Traffic Act 1988).

This is thus expressed as a ‘MUST’ in Rule 239 of the HC, which states that you “MUST ensure you do not hit anyone when you open your door”, with further advice to “check for cyclists or other traffic”.

This rule, however, is not well-known or publicised, and fails to adequately alert drivers to the specific risks to cyclists and motorcyclists if car doors are opened into the road without looking behind first.

The risks of ‘car dooring’

Alongside drivers overtaking too closely and vehicles turning left across their path, car dooring it is a major concern, particularly in urban areas and around parked vehicles.

Being knocked off whilst cycling when someone opens their car door without looking is a very real fear. A project on ‘near misses’, for instance, identified ‘near’ car dooring incidents as one of the most common "scary" incidents reported. Car dooring is not just frightening, though – a carelessly opened car door can lead to a collision with another vehicle, with fatal consequences.

Figures released by the Department for Transport (DfT) to Cycling UK following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request show that, between 2011 and 2015, there were 3,108 people injured, eight fatally, where ‘vehicle door opened or closed negligently’ was recorded as a ‘contributory factor’ in incidents attended by the police. 2,009 of those casualties were people cycling, with five resulting in fatalities.

These figures are, however, highly unlikely to be fully representative of the scale of the problembecause only a small proportion of car dooring incidents are attended by the police. While it is reasonable to assume that most serious injury and all fatalities will lead to police involvement, and will therefore be recorded in the DfT’s figures, the minor injury cases (cuts, bumps, bruises etc.) are significantly under-reported as many cyclists do not call the police in such cases.

Car dooring and the ‘Dutch Reach’

Cycling UK recommends that the HC rules should be amended to highlight the dangers that car dooring poses to cyclists and motorcyclists, together with guidance about the ‘Dutch Reach’. This is a simple technique for opening a car door, can be learned in seconds, costs nothing, and can save lives.

The Dutch Reach is a method of opening a car door for a driver (or passenger) where you use your far hand rather than the near hand.

In the UK, this means a driver (or a passenger on the driver’s side) would look to open their door with their left hand, not their right. To do this the driver has to reach across their chest, so their body naturally turns, making it easier not just to check their mirrors for oncoming traffic (including cyclists), but also places them in a position to actually see the traffic. If it is safe to do so, they can then open their door and, as they are reaching across their body, they can ensure the door only opens partially, not to its full extent.

This technique is taught in the Netherlands during driving instructionand has been helping to save lives there for close to50 years. Its use by rear seat passengers, who do not have a wing mirror, could help avoid tragic deaths such as that of cyclist Sam Boulton, who died as a result of a rear seat passenger’s failure to look behind before opening her door.

Sam’s father Jeff Boulton has been campaigning for the introduction of the ‘Dutch Reach’ into the HC, with a linked public awareness campaign, and supports Cycling UKrecommendation.

Why wouldn’t you change the Highway Code to introduce a simple technique that could stop hundreds of cyclists being knocked off their bikes every year?

By introducing the Dutch Reach into the Highway Code, drivers would learn to always look over their shoulder before opening their car doors. It can be learned in seconds and costs nothing.

Jeff Boulton, father of Sam Boulton

Cycling UK also believes that a new offence of causing death or serious injury by car dooring should be introduced.

  • The above recommendation was one of over 80 we made in our 'Cycle safety: make it simple' response to the Department for Transport's Cycle Safety Review.

I'm an avid enthusiast with a comprehensive understanding of road safety, particularly in the context of cycling regulations and the Highway Code. My knowledge extends to the intricacies of traffic laws, the dynamics of road use, and the critical importance of implementing effective measures to enhance safety for all road users.

In the provided article from Cycling UK, the focus is on the proposed amendments to the Highway Code, specifically addressing the issue of 'car dooring' and introducing the 'Dutch Reach' technique to mitigate risks for cyclists and motorcyclists. Let's delve into the key concepts discussed in the article:

  1. Highway Code Review and Cycling UK's Involvement:

    • The Department for Transport (DfT) is conducting a review of the Highway Code, with Cycling UK actively participating in the process.
    • The last comprehensive review of the Highway Code occurred in 2007, and Cycling UK emphasizes the need for a new review, particularly to accommodate advancements like vehicle automation.
  2. 'Car Dooring' as an Offense:

    • Opening a car door in a way that endangers or injures others is considered an offense.
    • Rule 239 of the Highway Code emphasizes the obligation to avoid hitting anyone when opening a car door, with specific mention of checking for cyclists or other traffic.
  3. Concerns and Risks of 'Car Dooring':

    • 'Car dooring' is identified as a significant concern, especially in urban areas and around parked vehicles.
    • The risks include collisions with cyclists, with potentially fatal consequences.
  4. Statistics and Underreporting:

    • Figures from the Department for Transport (DfT) reveal incidents of injuries and fatalities related to 'vehicle door opened or closed negligently.'
    • The article acknowledges that these figures are likely an underrepresentation due to underreporting, especially in minor injury cases.
  5. The 'Dutch Reach' Technique:

    • Cycling UK recommends amending the Highway Code to highlight the dangers of 'car dooring' and to introduce guidance on the 'Dutch Reach' technique.
    • The 'Dutch Reach' involves using the far hand (left hand in the UK) to open the car door, encouraging drivers to naturally turn their bodies and check mirrors for oncoming traffic, including cyclists.
  6. Benefits and Advocacy for the 'Dutch Reach':

    • The 'Dutch Reach' is presented as a simple, cost-effective technique that has been successful in the Netherlands for nearly 50 years.
    • Advocates, including the father of a cyclist who died due to 'car dooring,' support the introduction of the 'Dutch Reach' into the Highway Code.
  7. Proposed Offense and Overall Recommendations:

    • Cycling UK proposes the introduction of a new offense for causing death or serious injury by 'car dooring.'
    • The article mentions over 80 recommendations made by Cycling UK in response to the Department for Transport's Cycle Safety Review.

In conclusion, the article advocates for a comprehensive review of the Highway Code, highlights the dangers of 'car dooring,' and promotes the adoption of the 'Dutch Reach' technique to enhance road safety for cyclists and motorcyclists. The emphasis is on public support to make these proposed changes a reality.

What should the Highway Code should say about 'car dooring'? (2024)


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