When one door opens…

By Elia Petzierides

Sixty-year-old Joan Williams (a psudonym) had just parked her black BMW in a parallel parking space on Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn, Victoria, Australia on March 17, 2010. Mrs Williams picked up her handbag from the passenger seat, checked her mirror then opened the drivers door, inadvertently striking 22-year-old cyclist James Cross who was riding to university. Mr Cross was propelled onto the road and in between the carriages of a passing Mack truck towing a five tonne Hercules Tipper. The truck driver heard a bang and looked in his mirror to see Mr Cross being run over by the trailer. Mr Cross died instantly.

‘Doorings’ are defined as car doors opening onto cyclists, and based on media reports this appears to be the same cause of death of a cyclist in Melbourne yesterday (February 27). In the wake of this fatality it is worth looking into the details of Mr Cross’s Coronial Inquest.

Firstly, it was determined that Mr Cross was riding his bicycle appropriately within a shared bicycle and parking lane.

There was some discussion surrounding the distance Mrs Williams’s car door was open. Mrs Williams maintained that it was not open very much and witness accounts were sought to clarify this. However the police officer who attended the scene and compiled the Coronial Brief stated the distance the door was opened was irrelevant. The offence of ‘opening a vehicle door to the danger of another’ is complete no matter how far the door is open. Despite this, a charge was not pursued. The police officer told the Inquest that her ‘bosses at her her station informed her a charge would not be authorised’. It is not known if any charges were laid after the Inquest.

A Vicroads representative provided some statistics on doorings in the state of Victoria. She stated at the time that Mr Cross was the only known fatality involving a dooring in Victoria. From 2000-2010 there were 1112 dooring crashes reported with 302 of those resulting in a ‘serious injury’ 802 resulting in ‘other injury’. Additionally, the Vicroads representative informed the Inquest that 15% of reported central business district (CBD) crashes involved doorings.

The Coroner concluded that Mr Cross’s death was “entirely preventable” and “the repercussions and grief will be long felt not only by his family and friends, but also by those associated with this avoidable incident.”

Two tenets mentioned at Inquest underpin the preventative measures:
1. Cyclists have a right to ride in safety and not be fearful of being hit by a car door.
2. Motorists need to be more aware of their responsibility to thoroughly check for cyclists before opening a car door.

With these in mind, let us explore measures implemented to prevent future doorings.

Bicycle Victoria produced a campaign titled “Sharing the Road” and also listed some other campaigns they were planning on releasing to raise awareness of doorings for drivers and cyclists.

A recent innovation was also discussed at Inquest involving the swapping of the bicycle lane with the parking lane in the CBD. This offers the benefit of placing cyclists on the passenger’s side of the car where fewer passengers alight and also removes cyclists from the risk of contact with traffic.

While it was acknowledged that changing road user behaviour is challenging, modifying infrastructure is seen as an integral component of strategies to reduce the risk of future doorings to cyclists.

With another dooring death recorded in May 2014 and yesterday’s fatality making it two dooring deaths in Victoria in less than five years since Mr Cross’s death, it would be fair to conclude they are on the rise. Therefore it is essential everyone plays their part in preventing future doorings. Let’s not let another life end when one door opens.

Dooring information

Dooring caught on camera in 2014

The author Elia Petzierides is an avid cyclist. a Victorian based Advanced Life Support Paramedic and a Registered Nurse with a Graduate Diploma in Advanced Clinical Nursing.

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