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The laws of car doors

18 January 2011

I once had a colleague who was a real soy milk warrior. He didn’t just drink the stuff and overstock the work fridge – he tried to persuade everyone who ventured into the kitchen of the joy of soy.

He never really told me many benefits of soy milk. He simply explained all the horrible things that he believed happened when cows are milked, and which apparently slopped out of the carton and onto my breakfast.

I wouldn’t normally mind, but he explained all this while I was making my breakfast. Which I quite looked forward to after steaming in for half an hour on my bike. And which is in the running for my favourite meal of the day anyway.

When I finally snapped that I had biked to work and was hungry, the same colleague told me he too had been a regular cyclist, until he rode one day into a narrow gap between a bus and some parked cars. Someone in a parked car opened their door. He crashed into the door and was hurt pretty badly.

It never occurred to me that there might be rules about this sort of thing. But a regular reader, Elliot, has pointed out that the person in the parked car might have committed an offence. I thought I’d check it out.

Opening car doors

It turns out that it’s an offence to open “any door of a vehicle on a road so as to injure or endanger any person. If you’re cycling along and someone opens a car door in your path, they may commit this offence (and be liable to a fine of up to £1000). (RVCUR r. 105; RTA s. 42; RTOA Sch 2)

There are a few details which are worth bearing in mind:

  • There doesn’t have to be a crash for the offence to be committed – it’s an offence to injure someone who is riding past by opening a car door, but it’s also an offence simply to endanger them (for example if they have to swerve to avoid a crash).
  • The offence isn’t limited to drivers – so a passenger who opens a car door so as to injure or endanger a cyclist could commit the offence.
  • It also isn’t limited to cars, but seems to apply to any vehicle which is on a road and which has a door.

If someone does open their car door and injures or endangers you on your bike, they won’t automatically have committed an offence – it will depend on the circumstances. For example, it might depend on whether their actions caused the injury or danger, or whether there was some other cause. They might say that you were riding too close, or weren’t paying attention, and that’s what caused the accident.

It also might depend on whether the person who opened the door looked behind them properly first. If they did check for cyclists, they might argue that they weren’t at fault. At the moment it’s not actually clear whether fault is required for the offence (the courts have so far ducked the question), but a no-fault scenario would probably make the case more complicated. (Sever v Duffy [1977] RTR 429)

What if this happens to you?

If you crash into a car door on your bike, the driver of the car has to give his name and address if you ask for it (as well as the car’s registration number). If he refuses he will commit an additional offence, which is more straightforward and more serious than the car door offence (and may therefore be of more interest to the police). (RTA s. 170(2), (4); RTOA Sch 2; Jones v Prothero [1952] 1 All ER 434; Dawson v Winter [1932] 49 TLR 128)

If the police don’t attend the scene, but you want to take the matter further, you’ll need to report the incident yourself. It will help if you have as much detail as possible about the car and driver, and also the details of witnesses.

Be aware though that it can sometimes be difficult to get the police to act, even with this information. The Cycling Lawyer has written at length about problems he’s had in persuading the police to pursue an offender, although it seems that his story might now have a happy ending.

This is obviously one of those situations where prevention is better than cure. There’s no perfect solution, but it’s worth bearing in mind the risk and (if you can) riding far enough clear of parked cars to avoid any sudden surprises.

Luckily my colleague who crashed into a door eventually recovered. He hasn’t ridden again though. I’ve since changed jobs, so I don’t know whether he’s still actively pursuing a soy agenda. Personally I’m as yet unconvinced – and I have heard that horrible things can happen when soys are milked…


Photo: edit by UKcyclerules from a photo by GarySe7en from here: Rights restrictions as original.

  1. 18 January 2011 23:14

    Solution to dooring problem?

    • 19 January 2011 10:22

      lol – that’s some pretty high-tech-looking stuff. i can’t help but notice that all their example cars seem to be rather above my price range!

  2. 18 January 2011 23:52

    This is good to know. I was knocked off my bike about 4 months ago by a driver who opened his car door without looking. Thank goodness there was no traffic behind me or I probably wouldn’t be here writing this post. The driver didn’t even check to see if I was hurt, or help me off the road, but immediately launched into a shouting tirade of abuse before I had even got up off the road. He continued to shout at me (apparently I had scratched his car door) and I countered that it was his fault and not mine. I was in such a state of shock with all the shouting, and thankfully was not hurt, but I just wanted to get away, so I walked home from there. If I had known this I definitely would have taken his details and pursued the issue as he was abusive and did not check before he opened the door.

    • 19 January 2011 10:19

      hi s&s

      sorry to hear about your crash – sounds horrible. very lucky that you weren’t hurt!

      reading your comment made me realise there’s something I should have added. if you are injured or your bike is damaged in an incident like this, you may have an alternative option of suing for damages. it would still be worth collecting as much information as you can though – about the car, driver and any witnesses.

    • 24 January 2011 10:32

      your comment made me really cross, s&s. People take the view that it’s always someone else’s fault – don’t apologise for nearly killing a cyclist, shout at them for damaging their precious car.

      luckily, I was aware of this law since I did my advanced driving test a few years ago, when the information was in a big red box at the front of the little training guide they gave us before we started… so i knew it was an offence. luckily, it’s never happened to me, but good to know that you don’t have to just take the bumps!

      incidentally, i also spoke to a police officer friend of mine to ask if they would know about laws like this, and his answer was no, they wouldn’t, as a rule. they get taught about documents and stopping vehicles and basic laws, but nothing like this. that’s what traffic division’s for. he told me that he knew about it, because he’s a biker and so very hot on traffic offences, but most of his colleagues wouldn’t know at all.

  3. 20 January 2011 12:09

    Thanks for the listed cases here blondwig, they may well come in useful.

    It’s always good practise to take details, pictures and evidence as much as you can. It’s possible to believe that one may not be injured during the hightened state of shock folloing a doorzone incidnet and then realise that you have suffered injury later in the day when it’s too late.

    • 4 February 2011 17:24

      hi dave

      sorry was only just notified of your comment for some reason!

      sounds like good practical advice

  4. John Markson permalink
    18 February 2011 22:33

    This happened to me today! Riding along between slowing traffic and some parked cars, and as I was going past a black Mercedes, the drivers door opened and caught my left crank. There was a big clunk sound, I was thrown superman-style headfirst off my bike, landing on my side/back, on my head/shoulder/hip. The driver of the car seemed concerned, asking whether I was OK, I was a bit startled but got up straight away and mumbled that I thought I was OK (it’s hard to tell, right after a crash – more surprised than anything else). Another passing motorist in the slow moving traffic got out and asked whether I was OK, again I said that I think so. I think I was very luck – my head hit the ground with quite some force but I was wearing a helmet and that seems to have prevented any damage (the second time that a helmet has saved me from head-ground-impact problems). Somehow, I have no cuts, scrapes, grazes, just some bruising on my hip, I was very lucky! After some more mumbling that I thought I was OK, I rode off, although I then found out that my left crank arm has been bent backwards by the impact.

    Between asking whether I was OK, the driver also asked what happened, I said that she’d opened her door, she said something along the lines that the traffic had stopped moving so she thought it was safe to open the door. I hope she learns her lesson for next time, and I hope I put a good dent in the door of her Merc.

    Now reading the above, I wonder whether I should have asked her for her details. Too late now, but worth keeping in mind for next time. The driver was totally non-aggressive about it and with my lucky landing the damage was limited, so I don’t think I’d pursue things anyway (the time cost of pursuing it is probably more than the cost of a new crank arm and helmet).

    • 19 February 2011 19:00

      hi john

      sorry to hear about this, but glad you’re ok. unfortunately you’re right that pursuing things legally can sometimes take time and money.

      • John Markson permalink
        19 February 2011 23:12

        Exactly, time and money – a couple of years ago a friend was knocked down by a car while he was riding past a give way junction (the car didn’t give way). The car driver stopped, then drove off without getting out of the car or speaking to him. He had a witness and got part of the registration plate, so he reported it to the police, who said that it was a hit and run. He was lucky in that he wasn’t harmed, although his helmet, front fork and front wheel were damaged. However, the police seemed fairly disinterested, so he later went back to the residential road that the give way junction came out from and in one of the driveways found a car of matching colour, with a match of the first half of the registration plate, and with a helmet shaped dent in the bonnet. He reported this information to the police, but after a lot of fumbling around they decided that there wasn’t anything they could do as had he suffered no physical harm, and so suggested that he should take it up with the other persons insurer. He had to get a lawyer and after another half year of being bounced around, finally got some money out of the driver (who opted to settle with him directly, rather than through their insurance company), to pay for his bike damage.

        It seem that if the accident doesn’t involve a car or serious injury, the police — where I am, at least — don’t really care.

  5. Wuchaa permalink
    16 April 2011 11:56

    Where does the law stand for cars with sliding doors, for eg. If person A opens their sliding door and steps out without looking and causes a crash or endangerment. Would this be the same as a pedestrian walking out without looking as it is not the vehicle that has directly caused the accident?

    • 16 April 2011 14:47

      hi wuchaa

      interesting question. my initial response (not fully researched) would be that for the car door offence to apply, it would probably have to be the door which caused the injury/endangerment, rather than the person getting out of it (although I admit this could be argued either way).

      if i’m right, then i suppose it’s possible that the person getting out of the car might have committed some offence of obstructing the highway; but the matter would be more likely to be dealt with at civil law (i.e. liability in damages to the victim, probably based on negligence).

      i haven’t thought much about pedestrian liability – i’ll add this to the list!


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