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I got 'doored' while undertaking on my bike. Was it my fault?

A cyclist in Manchester
A cyclist in Manchester. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

As soon as the van door hit me I thought: finally. After cycling regularly for 15 years it always seemed something of a miracle that I had never been knocked off.

My second instinct was to feel sheepish. Was it my fault?

I was making my way home from the Guardian’s Manchester office on Sunday when the accident happened. It’s a 10-mile journey along cycle lanes of varying degrees of inadequacy, apart from a scary section in the middle on the busy A6 in a suburb called Longsight.

I always have my wits about me when riding through Longsight. There is one particular stretch that is always a disaster, with idiots double parked outside numerous takeaways and money transfer shops. Whatever the time of day there’s always a queue of traffic heading out towards Stockport and so I inevitably end up filtering in and out of the cars in order to get home quicker.

There isn’t space to overtake on the right so I went slowly along the left side of the stationary cars. Every time I do this I know it’s not terribly clever and so I am always cautious, watching out for obstacles as I beat the traffic, doing micro-mini risk assessments as I pass each vehicle.

On Sunday I was hit by a van door. It clipped my saddle just as I had passed, knocking me into a parked car. The passenger responsible was apologetic. I wasn’t hurt and my bike was OK but I was in shock, told him he really should look before opening a car door in the middle of the road, and then cycled off, gulping back tears.

I didn’t have a go at him, largely because I thought I was to blame. Should I have overtaken on the right instead? Or waited in the jam like a car?

All the way home I wondered whether I had a right to feel angry and felt ashamed I didn’t know the law. I decided to ask a cycling lawyer to find out.

“Cyclists can filter on left or right – ideally only on the left when traffic is stopped,” said Nadia Kerr of JMW solicitors, who specialise in personal injury claims from cyclists. “I undertake when the traffic is slow moving, particularly where there is insufficient space on the outside of the traffic to filter on the right. Insufficient space on the right of the traffic can put a cyclist in a much more vulnerable position heading into the flow of oncoming traffic.

“There’s no law or highway code prohibition on left hand side filtering. You just need to take care around junctions for cars turning in. The advice is also to take greater care on inside of large vehicles, such as buses.”

Kerr has acted for numerous clients who have been doored, including one man knocked off his bike and on to spiked railings, and another who ended up hitting a tree. She has represented other unfortunates with deep laceration wounds, often on their upper arms, “punctured” by car doors opening.

If I had been hurt, or my bike had been damaged, could I have sued the passenger? Or maybe the driver?

“There is conflicting case law on this point and you can expect a tussle with the insurer,” said Kerr. “I’ve had resistance from insurers arguing that the driver was not responsible for the actions of a passenger and that the passenger, who did not benefit from compulsory insurance, would need to be traced and sued.”

Government statistics show that between 2011 and 2015 eight people were killed and 3,108 injured in accidents involving vehicle doors being opened or closed “negligently”.

There’s only so much cyclists can do to avoid being doored. Passengers and drivers hold the power. Kerr advocates the “Dutch reach”. It sounds slightly kinky but just involves drivers being taught to open car doors with the hand furthest away from their door, as they do in Holland.

“I tried it. It was a bit awkward but it caused me to twist and have better vision and it stimulated a deeper engagement with what I was trying to do,” she said.

Kerr thinks the Dutch reach should be included in the driving test and I agree. Until then I’ll go even slower when filtering on the left. Wish me luck!

This article titled "I got 'doored' while undertaking on my bike. Was it my fault?" was written by Helen Pidd North of England editor, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 6 February 2018 07.00am

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