You Can Save a Bicyclist’s Life

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Simple solutions to stubborn problems, especially those that cost lives, are hard to come by. When one of those solutions is within reach, it should be embraced.

Here’s the issue: Ever more Americans are taking up bicycling as a mode of transportation. From 2000 to 2017, bicycle commuting grew by 43 percent — even more in big cities like New York, Chicago, Washington and Los Angeles.

This is a good thing. It’s been motivated by a personal desire for exercise and a broader wish to reduce congestion and fossil-fuel use. And it’s been helped along by wise urban design, the creation of bike lanes and bike-share programs.

All this has come with a cost, though — in bicycle deaths, which hit a dismal decades-long high in 2016 before dropping slightly last year. Among vehicle-to-cycle crashes, among the most injurious are doorings.

What’s a dooring? That’s the technical term for what happens when a car door crosses a cyclist’s path — when a small, lightweight, fast-moving object comes into contact with a larger, heavier, stationary entity. The effects can be devastating.

Now for the solution. Remarkably, there is an unheralded, low-cost approach to reducing this sort of accident. It’s called the “Dutch Reach” — for the bike-happy country where it is widely practiced — and it is as simple as its two-syllable name.

It works like this: When exiting a car, instead of using the nearer hand to open the door, drivers use the farther hand. Reaching across to grab the handle causes them to turn, look backward and, more likely than not, see an oncoming cyclist. It’s the same easy movement used to fasten a seat belt — just in reverse.

Though there is no precise data on the effect of the technique, it’s fair to say that it has had a meaningful impact on safety. In the Netherlands, where it has been taught for years, cycling deaths have fallen even as ridership has increased.

The move is beginning to catch on elsewhere. Illinois and Massachusetts recently introduced the concept in their road safety manuals, and it could appear soon on state driving tests. Britain has similar plans. Other states and countries should follow their lead.

Helmets, lights, barriers to separate bikes and cars — all these reduce cycling accidents. One small behavioral change should be added to the list — one that asks little of drivers and costs nothing. Give the Dutch Reach a place on American roads.

Editorials are written by the Bloomberg Opinion editorial board.

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