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The cyclists’ dreaded door prize

A Victoria cyclist was injured this week when she ran into a van door that opened in front her — a situation sometimes referred to as a “door prize.” (Read about the crash here .

A Victoria cyclist was injured this week when she ran into a van door that opened in front her — a situation sometimes referred to as a “door prize.”

(Read about the crash here.)

Running into a door can cause serious injury — and not just from the impact. There’s also the danger of falling into traffic, or swerving into the car lane as you attempt to avoid the door.

The person opening the door is at fault in these situations. As Times Colonist driving columnist and instructor Steve Wallace writes (emphasis is mine):

All traffic is at the mercy of an unaware driver who opens the car door from a parked position while at the side of the road. It is the duty of all drivers and passengers to be responsible when doing so. A complete 360-degree check and a mirror-shoulder check must also be done prior to anyone opening a vehicle door exposed to normal traffic. I know of no exceptions.


Drivers are generally aware of the dangers when parking by the side of the road. Cyclists can be severely injured or killed by a car door opening in their path of travel. Cyclists will have no chance whatsoever of avoiding such a collision. Many steer left, out of a self-preservation instinct, only to be hit by oncoming traffic. There is very significant liability exposure for drivers when this happens. Liability is the least of the worries when one considers the threat to life and limb in these situations.

Tips for drivers

  • Look outside before you open your door.
  • Open your door with your right hand, which will force you to look backward as you turn your body — a door-opening shoulder check.
  • Open the door slowly.
  • Don’t leave your vehicle door open needlessly.

Tips for cyclists

  • Look for signs that someone could be exiting the vehicle. Did it just pull in/park? Can you see someone in the driver’s seat?
  • Ride slowly while passing parked cars.
  • Ride as far away from parked cars — out of the “door zone” — as is safe. This is about one metre.
  • Ring your bell as you approach and pass parked cars.
  • Maintaining a straight line as you ride — not weaving in and out of parked cars — will make you more visible.

Tips for city planners

Invest in infrastructure that eliminates the conflict. That means physically separated lanes, lanes that include a buffer between parked cars and bicycles, or lanes that are placed between parked vehicles and the curb.

This diagram, taken from the Capital Regional District's Regional Pedestrian and Cycling Masterplan, gives an idea of what different kinds of lane setups look like, and what kind of cyclists feel comfortable in each one. (Class III is experienced [vehicular] cyclists, Class I is everyone). The second from the right shows a cycle lane placed between a parked car and the curb.


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For more information, check out these resources:

San Francisco Bicycle Coalition

Olive Ridley Crawl Blog

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Previous posts can be found here

Bike bits: Pedal-less bicycle, bad crash, cycling education with a Canadian twist

YYJ bikes: August cycling events in Victoria, B.C.

Bicycle Master Plan a chance for Victoria to become ‘Canada’s cycling capital’

On a bicycle or in a car, road rage is ugly

Hello transit priority corridor, goodbye bike lane

She's like the wind: How to cycle in a skirt

Mexico City by bike