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Road Rights- Avoid the Door Zone

How to ride safely—and legally—around parked cars

By Bob Mionske

One of the most common types of car-bike collisions occurs when a stopped motorist suddenly opens a door into the path of an approaching rider. Each year hundreds of cyclists are injured or killed in such crashes. The best way to prevent this is to avoid pedaling in the “door zone”—the 3- to 5-foot area next to a parked car. The problem: Traffic engineers typically place bike lanes as far to the right as possible, which often puts cyclists entirely within the door zone. If you ride on streets with parallel parking, consider this your open-door policy.

Be Predictable
On roads with plenty of empty parking spaces, it’s tempting to duck in and hug the curb along those vacant spots. But weaving around vehicles can confuse motorists and make you harder to see. Instead, pick a safe line and hold it.

Anticipate
If you choose to ride within the door zone, watch for occupants in parked vehicles and be prepared to come to a quick stop without swerving.

Ditch the Bike Lane
Some police officers mistakenly believe the law requires cyclists to ride as close to the right as possible. In reality, it dictates that cyclists do so only to the extent that it’s safe. You may need to ride in the traffic lane to stay out of the door zone. To reduce your risk of getting a ticket, take only as much of the lane as you need.

Make a Change
A federal study found that sharrows (see illustration, below) encourage motorists to give cyclists space and discourage riders from pedaling in the door zone. Work with local advocates to get them installed on streets where unsafe conditions exist.

ZONING RULES
Sharrows (or “shared arrows,” right) remind motorists that cyclists are entitled to take that part of the road. Some bike lanes in San ­Francisco include ­angled lines (left) that warn cyclists to ride outside the door zone. Dooring is against the law in many states—including New York and California. If you get hit, call police and file a claim with the driver’s insurance company.


Illustration: Harry Campbell

Research and assistance by Rick Bernardi, J.D.

 

This article, Avoid the Door Zone, was originally published by Bicycling on February 8, 2013.

Now read the fine print:
Bicycle and the Law, Bob MionskeBob Mionske is a former competitive cyclist who represented the U.S. at the 1988 Olympic games (where he finished fourth in the road race), the 1992 Olympics, as well as winning the 1990 national championship road race.
After retiring from racing in 1993, he coached the Saturn Professional Cycling team for one year before heading off to law school. Mionske's practice is now split between personal-injury work, representing professional athletes as an agent and other legal issues facing endurance athletes (traffic violations, contract, criminal charges, intellectual property, etc).
Mionske is also the author of Bicycling and the Law, designed to be the primary resource for cyclists to consult when faced with a legal question. It provides readers with the knowledge to avoid many legal problems in the first place, and informs them of their rights, their responsibilities, and what steps they can take if they do encounter a legal problem.
 
If you have a cycling-related legal question, please send it to mionskelaw@hotmail.com Bob will answer as many of these questions privately as he can. He will also select a few questions each week to answer in this column. General bicycle-accident advice can be found at www.bicyclelaw.com.
Important notice:
The information provided in the "Road Rights" column is not legal advice. The information provided on this public web site is provided solely for the general interest of the visitors to this web site. The information contained in the column applies to general principles of American jurisprudence and may not reflect current legal developments or statutory changes in the various jurisdictions and therefore should not be relied upon or interpreted as legal advice. Understand that reading the information contained in this column does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Bob Mionske. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained in the web site without first seeking the advice of legal counsel.

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