Steve Wallace: The common-sense rule not many know

When would a driver who smashes into an object be deemed “without fault”?

The answer is both strange and logical.

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In fact, the answer is an exception to almost all traffic legislation and regulations. If a car door opens and is struck by a passing motorist, cyclist, motorcycle or any other legal mode of transportation, it is the fault of the driver who opened the door. The offender is liable to a fine of $109 and is assessed a two-point violation under the Motor Vehicle Act, not to mention the insurance implications of such an irresponsible action. At first blush, this seems awfully unfair. But upon reflection it makes good sense. How many people know about this rule? Not many.

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.

Many drivers have been hit because they exited a vehicle quickly without first checking traffic. Crashes of this kind can often result in a total loss and write-off of a vehicle. The door-jam collision will often bend the frame of a vehicle.

There is one circumstance that is sometimes beyond the driver’s control. A passenger will open the door without properly checking for hazards when parked on the left side of a one-way street. Adults who do not drive and are not in the habit of checking — or young children — often try jump out as soon as the vehicle comes to a stop. They are excited to get to their destination. Locking all doors when travelling and parking is not only a good idea but also built-in by some vehicle manufacturers.

It is best to park only on the right side of the road when transporting passengers. At least they will be exiting to the sidewalk and be much less likely to get hit in this situation. As the driver of the vehicle, you should be the one to check for danger and give the all-clear instruction to passengers who wish to exit the vehicle. Scooters, joggers, skaters, cyclists and other dangers could be travelling on a sidewalk.

The shock and surprise of a car door opening unexpectedly is something every driver comes to dread. It is acceptable to toot the horn when it seems like a driver may exit a vehicle without first looking for hazards. Heads moving laterally inside a parked vehicle is a good trigger for such behaviour. Flashing the high beam lights at night may provide the same warning.

When pulling beside another vehicle while preparing for a parallel park, always leave a vehicle door length between you and the parked car. If the parked car door suddenly opens, there will be a built-in buffer zone.

Occupied-vehicle doors are bound to open, so prepare for it.


Steve Wallace is the owner of Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and in the B.C. Interior. He is a former vice-president of the Driving Schools Association of the Americas, a registered B.C. teacher and a graduate of the University of Manitoba.

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