The “Dutch Reach” Will Become Part of Illinois’ Driver Curriculum

Using your inside hand to open a car door could save a life. Image: Wikipedia
Using your inside hand to open a car door could save a life. Image: Wikipedia

The “Dutch Reach” is a simple, but potentially lifesaving, habit that people in cars can adopt to help reduce the danger of opening a door on a bicyclist. It’s the norm in the bike-friendly Netherlands: using your inside hand (right hand on the driver side, left hand on the passenger side) to open the door. It makes you look over your shoulder, reminding you to check for bike riders and making it more likely an approaching bike rider will be in your field of vision.

There was some good news last Friday when Governor Bruce Rauner signed into law House Bill 5143, which adds the Dutch Reach strategy to Illinois’ Rules of the Road manual, as well as adding bicycle safety questions to the state driver’s license test. (See, not everything Rauner does related to transportation is awful.)

Unsurprisingly, the Active Transportation Alliance helped lead the charge for this commonsense legislation, which was sponsored by State Rep. Theresa Mah (2nd District – Chinatown) and supported by a score of legislators from both parties. It passed both houses with strong majorities, including both Republicans and Democrats – a heartwarming, and increasingly rare, show of bipartisanism.

According to Active Trans, Mah came up with the idea for the new bill after hearing about a similar law in Massachusetts. The advocacy group helped come up with the wording for the Illinois legislation, and then marshaled support from hundreds of local bike advocates, who sent letters to state politicians, urging them to support the bill.

While the Dutch Reach has a funny name, anyone who rides a bike in Chicago can testify that dooring is no laughing matter. There were more than 300 reported dooring crashes in Chicago in 2015, according to Illinois Department of Transportation data.

After the Dutch Reach is added to the driver's manual, this should become a less common sight for cyclists. Photo: Steven Vance
After the Dutch Reach is added to the driver’s manual, this will hopefully become a less common sight for cyclists. Photo: Steven Vance

Moreover, there have been at least three cases in recent memory where Chicago motorists who opened their doors without checking for cyclists caused fatal crashes. In June 2008, 22-year-old Clinton Micelli was fatally struck after an SUV driver opened a door in his path on the 900 block of North LaSalle. In October 2012,a few blocks away at Oak and Wells, Neill Townsend, 32, was struck and killed by a truck driver after a car driver doored him. Afterwards, Townsend’s friends designed an anti-dooring decal that was eventually made a requirement for Chicago cabs. And just last month, 58-year-old Luster Jackson was fatally struck after he swerved to avoid an open car door in the 7200 block of South Stony Island.

The Statewide bike advocacy organization Ride Illinois has worked for months with Secretary of State Jesse White’s office to add info and questions about bike safety to the driver’s manual and exam, but there aren’t currently any questions about the Dutch Reach. That will likely change under the new law.

Meanwhile, Active Trans and Ride Illinois are pushing for another bike safety law, the Bike Walk Education in Schools Act (House Bill 4799), which would require pedestrian and bicycle safety instruction as part of the required K-8 traffic safety curriculum. The bill has passed both houses with bipartisan support, and Rauner is currently reviewing it.

You can sign a letter drafted by Active Trans in Support of the the Bike Walk Education in Schools Act here.

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