May 192012

What Individual Cyclists Had To Say About the Car Dooring Bill

The Parliamentary Inquiry into the Car Dooring Bill (which increases the maximum penalty for car dooring and introduces demerit points to the offence) recieved 90 submissions, indicating the level of community concern about car dooring and cyclist safety more generally. Most of the submissions were from private individuals. Here we present extracts of these, which shed light on issues such as the prevalence of car dooring, the weak enforcement of car dooring offences, motorists’ frequent failure to accept responsibility for car dooring offences, the need for better infrastructure and the need to improve cycling safety to get more people riding. Almost all of the submissions supported tougher penalties, but also stronger enforcement and more driver education. All submissions are available in full at the at Parliament of Victoria website. The final hearing is this Wednesday night 23 May – details here. You can read Melbourne BUG’s submission to the Inquiry here.

Linda Tivendale (mother of Andrew Tivendale, who was seriously injured in a car dooring accident)

My son, Andrew, was seriously injured on March 24, 2011 when a woman opened her car door as he was cycling along Lygon Street Brunswick. He was in a coma for six weeks, in hospital for a total of four months and underwent further rehabilitation as an outpatient until February of this year. We are very fortunate – he is deaf in one ear and one of his lungs is badly damaged but he has regained his strength and his memory. He will live with an acquired brain injury forever but, at this stage, it is not severe and he returned to full time employment two weeks ago. We have no way of knowing how his health will be affected in the long term.

The woman who opened her door received an infringement notice and a fine of $122.14. I have not spent any time wishing that she should be ‘punished’ – in the beginning I had more important things to worry about and I assume that she is remorseful and feels terrible about what happened.

Nevertheless, I believe that the penalty for car dooring should be increased and that it should become a summary offence dealt with by a magistrate. I think this would represent the gravity of what can occur when someone fails to look before opening their door. It is accepted that drivers must look before they cross an intersection, a pedestrian crossing, or just when driving down a straight stretch of road – it should not be somehow less important that they look before they open their car door.

To have to stand before a magistrate and acknowledge that their actions were careless and harmful would be, for us, an acknowledgement of how our life has changed through their behaviour. I know that I would appreciate an apology from the woman who opened her door.

I believe that a more substantial fine and increased demerit points are a deterrent. People do not sit in their car and decide to open their door into oncoming cyclists because it won’t cost them much – they open their car door because they don’t actually pause to think. When fines increase, most of us pause to think a bit more – be that fines for not wearing bike helmets, not buying a tram ticket, speeding or illegal parking. When we lose a large number of demerit points in a single event, we pause to think a bit more before we speed again.

I don’t want retribution and punishment – I would like something that has serious consequences to be treated seriously.

Andrew Tivendale

The woman who so carelessly* opened her door on that night was fined $122. $122 for nearly killing me, taking a year from me, for putting everyone I care about through immeasurable trauma.

I believe the penalty should be dramatically increased. Not to be punitive, but to provide people alighting from cars with the motivation (a key word, motivation) to make sure they do so without harming anybody. It takes so little effort for someone to check before opening a door, and yet it simply does not happen, so often. Mainly, we need to educate our drivers better about the hazards to other, vulnerable road users. However a stiff penalty will certainly go a long way to decreasing these incidents, having people consider other road users before opening their doors. Their license should be effected, as should their pocket. This is not about punishment, just about giving car users a reason to behave in a manner which is safe for all road users.

The penalty should also be applied more vigorously. At the moment, if a person says in their statement to police “I looked” then the minimum fine is imposed. In my case (why I used the “so carelessly*” above) there is simply no way she could have looked. I was wearing a high-visibility reflective vest and had flashing lights front and rear. I was actually outside her window when she opened her door (her door then pushed me into traffic). If she had looked she would have seen me.

Dr Nicola Martin (mother of James Cross, who was killed in a car dooring crash. The driver was never charged).

Perhaps if the penalty is more of a “stick” the deterrent effect would make the public more aware and hopefully more careful. I don’t know. I still feel the best thrust are the first 2 points – education and infrastructure. However, at the coronial inquest, it was stated by the police officer leading the accident investigation into James’ death that a decision was made by a senior officer at Booroondarra police station not to charge the driver involved. No reason was given. We understand that the maximal penalty that could have been imposed was 3 penalty points. In the document of the Standing Committee “under the current regulations the specified infringement penalty for car dooring is 1 penalty point [$122.14]. ” That is the same penalty as exceeding the speed limit by less than 15km on a freeway.

Our son was killed.

It seems extraordinary that a police officer can unilaterally decide not to impose a penalty on a driver when the result of their error is the death of a person.

Melinda Payne

I have been a victim of car dooring. I took this matter to the police, after collecting details from the car owner and a witness. The police informed me the matter could be taken to court, however it would be hard to prove that the said person had not looked before opening their car door. This to me seemed to make little sense, as if the said person had actually looked before opening their car door, they would have had to have seen me, as I also take extra caution to wear a high visible bike vest when I ride. The police officer said they would issue a warning to the said person. I believe the matter went no further, not on my behalf anyway.

Jelmer Akse

Every cyclist knows that the police will not show up at a dooring incident unless there are injuries. Even then it is said they need persuasion or an ambulance to be called to the accident site. This incident, as well as many others i have heard about from friends (most stories include a large dose of cynicism about Vicpol and the way incidents are handled) went unreported.

Erin Kelly

Having been car-doored late 2011 I was unaware of what action I could take against the driver. I was lucky enough to avoid serious injury, my bike was not, and the driver left me on the footpath as she had to hurry off for dinner. I was riding in a reflective vest, with front and back lights and still the driver did not notice me. I had to pay for the doctor and bike mechanic myself and was out of work for a week. The driver didn’t even offer to pay for the damage to the bike. I did not take action with TAC against the diver as she hurried off before I was through the shock enough to start asking what happens next or for her details.

I would like to make clear that I think the penalties for drivers car-dooring cyclists is nowhere near appropriate or fair. The fine should be increased, there should be demerit points taken off the license. The reason this must be implemented is that there is absolutely no incentive for drivers to look out for cyclists with the current state of penalties being what it is.

Dr Jan Garrard

Both my son and his partner were injured by dooring incidents when they were school students. My son was cycling (in daylight hours) to a shop where he was doing work experience, when a driver opened his car door into his path, causing my son to collide with the car door. My son was treated in the emergency department of the local hospital for an injured hand. The driver refused to accept responsibility for his actions and blamed my son for the collision, claiming that he was wearing dark clothes, riding a dark bicycle and cycling too fast – none of which was true. The case was heard in the magistrate’s court where my young son had to give evidence and be questioned by the driver’s solicitor in a way that effectively blamed my son for the collision and his injuries. The magistrate found against the driver and fined him the small available penalty.

This driver, like many others in Victoria (as demonstrated by high rates of dooring incidents and injuries), clearly felt no responsibility for checking for a cyclist before opening his car door. The implication is that it is the cyclist who must stay clear of car doors that are suddenly flung open. This is neither desirable nor always possible, particularly if cars have dark-tinted windows (cyclists cannot see if there is someone in the car), or if swerving to avoid a car door is likely to result in a collision with another vehicle.

Cyclists are highly dependent for their safety on other road users’ behaviours – much more so than heavily protected car occupants. Dooring a cyclist is much more likely to result in serious injury than dooring another car. In countries that have much lower rates of cycling injuries than Australia, the operator of the vehicle that has the potential to cause the most harm has a clear responsibility for avoiding harm, and road rules and penalties, including for dooring, reflect this risk imbalance.

Andrew Ashton

Hi There,

I ride with my kids on the back of my bike. They love it.

I’ve had about a dozen near misses from car doors being opened in front of me, usually with plenty of time to swerve. I’m fearful of it happening with no time to avoid an accident. Hope you can do something to help.

Tim Anders

We are the most vulnerable road users, forced to run the narrow gauntlet between moving traffic on one side, and the risk of car doors or unpredictable parking behaviour on the other, all while being completely unprotected (helmets offer only the least protection). For every serious injury reported to police there are many more that go unreported, and exponentially more near misses. While the amendment to the Road Safety Act is ultimately a punitive and ‘post-fact’ measure, with a statewide education campaign I believe it could dramatically reduce the risk of injury to cyclists. The amendment is of course no substitute for better cycling infrastructure, which only adds to its importance.

Clair Schultz

I am submitting details of my close calls with car doors because I think that Melbourne is an amazing city that is so easy to get around in by bicycle. But I have many friends who don’t cycle as they are concerned about the safety. Any steps towards increasing the safety of cyclists will increase the number of cyclists on the road, which makes for an even more livable city.

Bill Cawte

There is however a broader indirect effect [of car dooring] which concerns the discouragement of cycling in our cities. The reality and perception that cyclists are typically squeezed between fast moving motor traffic on their right, and stationary motor vehicles (with the ever-present and unpredictable risk of opening doors) on their left, serves to make cycling a much less attractive proposition to large sections of the public. This result is contrary to the interests, not only of cyclists, but of all sections of the community. Every individual who is persuaded that our roads are safe enough for them to ride on represents another seat on a tram, train or bus, or one less car on the road. It is my hope that this current inquiry considers this outcome to be one of the main, if not the main, underlying objective of its deliberations.

Kim Lambie

I have been hit by a car door before and thrown from my bike and couldn’t walk, or work for a month. I still do not have full nerve endings in that area of my leg 6 years later.

Julian Morton

My own experience of close calls often result in the “sorry didn’t see you” or worse “not my fault you shouldn’t be riding there” response. An awareness campaign with tougher penalties will increase people actively looking for bikes rather than just cars when they open car doors.

Austin Bicycle User Group

Many of us have learnt to move out when passing parked cars, to give at least 1m of space between the parked car and bike, to allow safety room in case the door is opened. However, cars following you often become annoyed if you move out into their lane to create that safety margin, and novice riders can find themselves dangerously drifting into following traffic

Bicycle path infrastructure, whilst improving, remains suboptimal. Many of the green marked bike lanes in the city pass right next to the drivers side door of parked cars. Riders can be left with a false impression of safety traveling in the bike lane, when they could be ‘doored’ unexpectedly at any time.

Greta Gillies

As a regular cyclist often ‘trapped’ in a bike lane between parked cars and motor traffic I am constantly conscious of the doors of parked opening on me. While I have never been hit by a door, there have been many near misses that could have left me seriously injured or dead. I worry also for parents who ride with children on their bikes, that the number of injuries and fatalities would be even worse if they were to be hit or were to swerve to avoid a car door.

Narelle Graefe

I was hit by a car door being opened approximately 6 years ago. I was riding in the bike lane in William St when a passenger got out of a car stopped at the traffic lights, 5 cars back from the intersection. The passenger didn’t look and opened their door directly into my path. Luckily I was slowing down due to the red light, so only had minor injuries. I did have to have three physio sessions though. It could easily have been much worse.

Peter Campbell

The Victorian Government has a duty of care for the people of Victoria. It is important that strong measures be taken to reduce the incidence of “car dooring” by increasing penalties, more driver education about avoiding “car dooring” and by provision of bicycle routes and paths physically separated from other vehicle traffic.

Peter Eade

I have been a cyclist on Melbourne roads for about five years, and unexpectedly opening car doors is in my opinion the most dangerous obstacle cyclists face in the inner city. Whatever the reported instances are, you probably have to at least quadruple them to approach the scale of the problem. I myself have been involved in a number of incidents which I have not reported, and know of friends for whom it is the same. One friend went right over a car door that was opened in his path, only to then get up, bloody and bruised, and have the driver complain that he had damaged his car door. I ride in constant fear of it happening.

Glenn Osboldstone

Approximately 6 years ago I was riding up Milton St, just off Dudley St in the CBD (near the Victoria Market), when a woman failed to look before she opened her car door. I crashed into it and then fell onto the road, injuring my leg and totalling my bike. An ambulance attended and I received first aid to my leg and for shock. Following that crash I am extremely cautious riding past parked cars. It is one reason I do not ride to work as much as I used to.

Frank Reinthaler

I need not tell you that cyclists are, along with pedestrians, the most vulnerable of all road users. Much maligned, often due to the irresponsible actions of some (but more often I think due to the frustration that car drivers experience when stuck in traffic when cyclists ride or filter past them), cyclists nevertheless fully deserve the protection of the law against careless and negligent motorists.

James at Velo cycles

I work in a bike shop, and see the injuries / damage to bikes from dooring on a regular basis, not to mention the stories / complaints from our customers.

Helen Vorrath

My worst ‘dooring’ experiences weren’t from drivers opening their doors when I was on a cycle path, but from passengers opening doors to exit from cars stopped at a traffic light as I was cycling between the parked cars and stationary cars. Any new penalty should cover holding the driver responsible if any door of their vehicle is opened in the path of a cyclist.

Isaac Gibbs

For me as a cyclists I think we should be focussing more on how we can prevent this from happening rather than what we can do to punish the person who has doored the cyclist. Although punishment comes into prevention I think their may be other ways as well. So I’m not saying punishment is a completely bad thing in preventing this from happening.

Nicholas Cotterell

I was doored on Sydney Road by a driver who sent me flying into passing traffic. I was lucky enough to be quickly rescued by nearby pedestrians who quickly got both me and my bike off the street and to safety. The driver felt that it was more important to inspect his damaged door rather than stop traffic, or check I was OK.

When I asked for his license details as my bike was badly damaged and I was concerned about my injuries he was quick to point out that he would need mine as ‘had I seen what I had done to his door and I would need to pay?’

Despite being assured by myself and several of the witnesses that he was at fault he remained adamant that he was in the right. He had no comprehension that it was entirely his fault. Days later when I contacted him with estimates for the damages to my bike and property he told me to expect a letter from his solicitor as it had cost him ~230 dollars to fix his door.

I had spoken to the police, but as I was uninjured they are unable to take a report, let alone prosecute.

Sam Graham

I would like to make my support clear for the initiative to change laws on car “dooring” incidents. A fine of between $122 – $450, without consequence to the drivers licence is far too lenient for an action that can seriously injure and hospitalise a cyclist. I identify as both a cyclist and a motorist as I am sure many cyclists do and I have been fortunate up to this point to have not caused or been injured in an incident with a car door although I have come close many times.

Andrew Costen

Having worked in a sector with a strong focus on OH&S, these near misses would be considered unacceptable and require a significant change in culture and approach. Regarding culture, most times the driver is apologetic as they just did not look, however, some drives abuse me as if I am at fault.

Neil W Taylor

I strongly believe that the current penalties for “dooring” incidents are insufficient, and fail to recognise that people can die (and have died) as a result of dooring.

 Posted by at 2:12 pm

  2 Responses to “‘I would like something that has serious consequences to be treated seriously’”

  1. […] Watch this space as we analyse the City of Melbourne’s Draft Bicycle Plan, out now for public consultation.  In a couple of weeks we will publish our submission to the plan here, and in the meantime, please send your suggestions to us, and make your own submission. […]

  2. Obviously the punishment fo $122 is a joke. Thing is, if the cyclist in the accident was not wearing a helmet, his fine is $155! I agree with Isaac Gibbs that prevention is the best idea, not punishment afterwards. I’d also like to see a more sweeping bill that catches are such collisions like a pedestrian just popping out on the road in front of you. That’s more dangerous because often you don’t see them in time. Mothers with prams are also difficult. They wheel the pram out first. Put it this way, if I open a car door on a cyclist or car, it’s my fault; if I step out onto the road in front of a cyclist or car, it’s their fault. Go figure.

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