Why You Should Always Open Your Car Door With Your Right Hand

The so-called "Dutch reach" could save lives—so why don't we teach it in Canada?

If you live in a city, every commute could be a “best-of” reel of dangerous driving. Car doors, in particular, have become an excellent teaching aid in proving Newton’s law that no two objects can occupy the same space simultaneously. Bikers, often sandwiched in a bike lane between parked cars and flowing traffic, are so prone to being struck by errant car doors that the phenomenon has a name: dooring. Sadly, it’s more common than you’d think.

Back in 2011, there was roughly one dooring accident in Chicago every day of the year, accounting for about one in five of all reported bike crashes. New York City announced a plan to raise dooring awareness among taxi passengers by including a video advertisement and “LOOK! For Cyclists” sticker in all 13,000 city cabs (Chicago declined to pass a similar measure several years ago). This is a nice start for a city that serves about 336,000 cab passengers every day. Still, a sticker does not a behavioural overhaul make, and there are more than 250,000 daily Uber and Lyft passengers in the city who will miss this message altogether. What, then, is the next step to ensure peace between bikers and drivers?

The excellent urban design blog 99% Invisible reports a simple, almost effortless motion you can take as a driver or passenger of a motor vehicle concerned about cyclist safety: Just open your door with your right hand.

This tip comes to us from the Netherlands, which is why it’s known here as the “Dutch Reach.” If you are sitting on the driver’s side of a parked car and want to get out, don’t open the door with your door-side (left) hand as you’re intuitively prepared to—instead, open the door with your right hand. This simple motion causes you to pivot your entire upper body as you reach, first drawing your line of sight past by your rear-view mirror, and then out to the street behind you. (If you are on the passenger’s side, use your left hand instead of your right; the trick is just to use the hand furthest from the door to ensure an upper-body pivot.)

It’s just that simple—and it works. So effective is the Dutch Reach that it doesn’t even have a name in the bike-friendly Netherlands. For decades, that’s just how drivers have been taught to open a door.

Like any habit, the Dutch Reach will take a while to internalize. DutchReach.org, a safety advocacy movement trying to make the reach mainstream, has plenty of resources for spreading the word, and a few slogans that could help you remember. Our favourite: “Reach, Swivel, Look, Open.”

Of course, if it’s easier to remember, you could always just tell yourself to “Go Dutch.”

Next, check out these clever car gadgets that make driving safer.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest