To avoid ‘doorings,’ cyclist wants drivers to do the ‘Dutch Reach’
Michael Charney wants you to do the Dutch Reach.
The 70-year-old retired doctor, who lives in Cambridge, is spearheading a grassroots public information campaign to encourage drivers exiting their vehicles to use their right hands to open their car doors.
Charney claims that by doing so, it forces motorists to turn their bodies, and check their mirrors and look over their shoulder for oncoming cyclists. The method, he said, could help avoid what can often be fatal collisions referred to as “doorings,” or being “doored.”
“It’s just common sense,” said Charney. “Instead of stepping out of the car with your back facing oncoming traffic, you’re being pulled around, so you will be looking at what’s coming at you.”
The bike enthusiast, who ditched his car in 1992, has been referring to the action of turning your body to grab a car door handle as the “Dutch Reach,” based on information he gathered from a blog and New York Times article from 2011 highlighting an action commonly employed for decades in bicycle-friendly countries like the Netherlands.
According to a Globe article from 2013, recounting a reporter’s visit to the Netherlands, drivers there are required to use their right hand to open a door as part of a driving exam.
Charney is hoping his neologism has staying power, and the Dutch Reach becomes a recognized practice here. He envisions the method one day appearing on driving exams and in driver education classes in the United States. However, he understands that could take time.
So for now, he’d like to make the streets safer for those traveling on two wheels by merely suggesting people try the Dutch Reach for themselves.
“My principle is, if it works, go with it,” he said. “It’s simple, it’s obvious, and it costs nothing. People just have to switch from one thoughtless habit to another thoughtless habit — but the second one is safer.”
Charney launched his project after a female cyclist was killed in a crash involving a car door in Inman Square this summer.
Amanda Phillips, a 27-year-old barista at Somerville’s Diesel Cafe, entered Cambridge Street from the sidewalk and then made contact with a Jeep’s open door. The impact pushed her into traffic.
When reading the comments on a news article about Phillips’ death, Charney noticed someone had mentioned that people in other countries habitually use their right hand to open or unlock car doors, making them swivel their bodies and almost unintentionally check for cyclists.
He began his research, and started communicating with bicycle advocates far and wide, to ask if they’d support the Dutch Reach.
It seems he has already found success in Somerville.
After Charney sent information about the Dutch Reach to police, an electronic sign board positioned outside of the Veterans Memorial Rink, on Somerville Avenue, began displaying a message about the practice. It reads, “Safer to open car door with far hand,” in three separate, blinking sentences.
Charney has also received the blessing of the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition, or MassBike, a statewide advocacy group.
“It works,” said Richard Fries, executive director of the non-profit, in an e-mail. “We’re supportive of it being promoted.”
Members of the Somerville Bicycle Committee have also stood behind Charney’s charge.
“An education campaign focused on this would be a fantastic new initiative,” said Ken Carlson, chairman of the advisory group. “It would really have an impact. Let’s see where we can take this.”
So will drivers go Dutch? Charney hopes so.
“My campaign is to get Americans to do what the Dutch have been doing for a long time,” he said. “It makes total sense, and it becomes automatic.”