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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  • Carter O’Brien

    That’s great news. More bike-awareness in driver education curriculum is a very good thing, let’s hope it doesn’t stop here.

  • Random_Jerk

    How are you supposed to hold your cellphone?

  • Elizabeth Christine

    Well, in theory, the phone is in your left hand, leaving your right hand free to open the door. But, if you’re on the passenger side, you have a real problem. /sarcasm.

  • rwy

    I’ve been thinking about how do you design cars to warn cyclists of an opening door. The rear lights stay on for about a minute after the car is put in park? The car makes a beep when the doors are unlocked?

  • Random_Jerk

    When I drive I hold my cell in the right hand.I use left one to hold coffee or shaver.

  • roadgeek80

    Good, another do nothing measure pushed by the bike lobby. The accidents will continue to go up as long as bikes play in traffic. With so many new road cyclists this list is going to rise. You can’t keep relying on automobiles to keep you safe. Pedestrian injuries are up too and thats because they are distracted too. Every one needs to pay attention, drivers will continue to take care of the little bike people, no doubt about it.

  • roadgeek80

    lets hope bike users get a rules of the road manual too.

  • johnaustingreenfield
  • shankshiv

    simply watch driver side mirrors

  • ADF

    Why is this a statewide thing, if it only really affects Chicago? Not everybody who lives in Illinois lives in Chicago (although I know most Chicagoans don’t realize that, or care).

  • johnaustingreenfield

    As a general rule, anyone opening a car door anywhere should be using the Dutch Reach method. There’s really no downside to doing it, and even if you’re on a street with low bike traffic, it can help prevent your car door from being struck by another motorist.

    The new law requiring the secretary of state to include info about the Dutch Reach in the Illinois Rules of the Road manual kicked in today, so happy Dutch Reaching!

  • Brian Sheehan

    Not everyone who rides a bike or other human-powered cycle regularly in Illinois lives in Chicago.

    Example: Me every day going to and from work down roads with on-street parking in Springfield.

  • ADF

    Even in my driveway, where there’s literally a 0% chance anyone could be coming up from behind me?

    The parking lots at my library, my grocery store, or my church, where there is also a 0% chance anyone could be coming up behind me?

    Parking on the street outside my sister’s house, where there is no better than a 0% chance anyone could be coming up behind me?

    Fact is, nearly everywhere I go on a regular basis, there is literally a 0% chance anyone could possibly be coming up behind me without me noticing already. Why should this stupid rule apply to me? The situation it covers literally never happens to me, or anyone else who lives within a hundred or more miles.

    Not everyone who lives in Illinois lives in a situation that looks like the photo in this article.

  • ADF

    All right, then why doesn’t Springfield pass its own ordinance to do the same thing, without also affecting everyone else?

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Again, there’s no law requiring Illinoisans to use the Dutch Reach, just a law requiring the secretary of state to include info about it in the Rules of the Road manual.

    About 75 percent of Illinoisans live in the Chicago region, where urban-style street layouts, parallel parking, and cycling are relatively common, and biking is also common in downstate areas like Champaign-Urbana and Bloomington-Normal. Should the Dutch Reach not be included in the manual because it may be less relevant to to the small fraction of Illinois residents to live in places where biking and/or urban street layouts are rare?

    You didn’t mention where you live, but whenever a motorist is opening a door from the left side of a parallel-parked car, there’s the outside possibility of it being struck by another driver. What’s the downside of getting in the habit the Dutch reach in order to completely eliminate that possibility? But, sure, if you don’t feel like doing it, that’s your call.

  • ADF

    Hmmm. I was pretty sure I heard that there was a fine connected to not following this rule, but now that I’m looking into it, I’m not seeing that that’s the case. I suppose if there’s no fine, then it’s no big deal. I don’t live in an area where this issue is ever a problem (literally never. And I mean never. People don’t ride bikes to get from place to place down here. If we ride bikes, it’s for recreation only, and there are bike trails for that–bike trails that aren’t even close to the road. Bike trails that go through places like forests and parks and fields and other fun stuff that nobody from Chicago ever sees. And it’s common practice to check to make sure there aren’t any cars coming from behind you when you get out on the driver’s side. It’s so common sense I’m not sure why Chicagoans need a rule to tell them to do that), so I was pretty annoyed that I could be fined for something that literally has nothing whatsoever to do with me.

    And just because 75 percent or whatever of Illinoisans live in the Chicago area doesn’t mean the rest of us should automatically be expected to abide by the same rules. I’m constantly reminded of my second-class citizenship in this state as is; I don’t need to get slapped in the face with a fine that stems from a rule that governs literally 0% of the times I, or anybody in my circle of acquaintances, ever gets out of a car. The whole thing just smelled to me of a desperate money-making ploy by a state that can’t pay its bills. But perhaps I was mistaken about that part. If so, then I’ll let it go.

    As for where I live… let’s just say I’m well south of Springfield. I might as well be in another country as far as Chicagoans are concerned.