Don’t Door Cyclists: It’s the Law

10/28/2010 3:08 PM |

bike dooring accident

After consecutive months in which twenty-somethings have been killed as a result of being “doored” when motorists opened the door of a parked car without looking, sending them into the paths of large vehicles like buses and trucks (one in Clinton Hill, the other in East Harlem), City Room takes a closer look at the actual laws on the books about proper door-opening. Turns out there is a Vehicle and Traffic Law that pertains specifically to the opening and closing of vehicle doors. It gets phrased differently—in the case of Krystal Francis, whose door sent 23-year-old Jasmine Herron under the wheels of a bus on Atlantic Avenue, the charge was “opening and closing vehicle doors,” but for the driver whose door sent 27-year-old Marcus Ewing into the path of a truck on East 120th Street on Friday morning, the summons called it “unsafely exiting a vehicle.” Confusingly, those mean the same thing…

A spokesperson for the New York State DMV shared an excerpt from Section 1214 of the State Vehicle and Traffic Law with CityRoom, and it reads:

Opening and closing vehicle doors. No person shall open the door of a motor vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so, and can be done without interfering with the movement of other traffic, nor shall any person leave a door open on the side of a vehicle available to moving traffic for a period of time longer than necessary to load or unload passengers.

Because it’s hard to determine such subjective things as how much time is required for passengers to get in and out of a car, the law can usually only be enforced when an officer sees it being broken. Or, when its flouting results in a car accident and/or the death of a cyclist. As of Friday 147 tickets, which run up to $150 a pop, had been handed out across the state this year (compared to 179 for all of 2009) for improperly opening or closing vehicle doors, although New York City doesn’t keep a tally of such cases.

As someone who’s come terrifyingly close to being doored countless times, but never taken the plunge, it’s something that I’m constantly aware of while biking, trying to spot silhouettes in parked cars and curbed cabs in case a driver or passenger is moving to get out. I’ll also say that for all the antipathy between cyclists and cab drivers, the latter tend to be very good about warning passengers not to open their doors if a cyclist is approaching—presumably because of the fines and lawsuits that might result. In summation, “to door”: officially a verb, officially against the law.