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Sen. Chap Petersen's Political Director Getting "Doored" Leads to Virginia Bicycle Legislation

by: lowkell

Sun Jan 06, 2013 at 15:36:05 PM EST

You may have seen the story the other day about Sen. Chap Petersen's bicycle "dooring" bill. It turns out that in Virginia, "there's no requirement to be careful when opening a door, which means that if someone doors a cyclist, police can cite the cyclist for hitting the door instead." Crazy huh? Even crazier is that this important bicycle safety legislation is lumped into his "stupidest bills" file by the egregious, right-wing/ALEC tool, House Speaker Bill Howell. If preventing bicyclists from getting injured or killed by automobiles is considered "stupid" by Howell, I'd hate to see what he considers a "smart" bill. Ugh.

Speaking of bicyclists getting injured, it turns out that the origin of Sen. Petersen's bill is actually a bicyclist who personally got "doored," and who now works as Petersen's political director. Here's his email, which he encouraged me to share on the blog, explaining to Petersen what happened to him (bolding added by me for emphasis).

Hey Chap,

Unfortunately, on Sunday, I was 'doored' by a car while I was bicycling. i.e. the driver of the vehicle swung their door open so far, and so quickly, that I was entirely unable to stop my bike before hitting the door.

To add insult to injury, I was assigned blame in the traffic incident for 'hitting the door'. Thus, not granting me any medical compensation and adding the possibility that I will be charged for any damage to the driver's vehicle.

After some convalescence, I spoke with the local Police Superintendent, who informed me that it is nearly impossible to charge drivers in this situation, because 'dooring' cyclists is not illegal in Virginia.

MD and DC have a law that says that "No person shall open any door of a vehicle unless it is safe to do so and can be done without interfering with moving traffic."

My only option is to sue the driver in small claims court for the damage to myself and the bicycle.

Luckily, I made a semi-acrobatic landing, and only have bruises, shoulder and arm injuries, and a broken finger. I will likely make a full recovery. I'm going to the doctor tomorrow.

Lets change the law!

As Parker mentioned in his email, both Maryland and DC have laws on the books to protect bikers from "dooring." Other states with such laws include: Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Rhode Island, Puerto Rico, Florida, Ohio.

In the case of Maryland, the law's been on the books since 1974 - almost four decades ago. Yet Virginia has nothing, even though bicycling, both for commuting and recreation, is booming (as is Capital Bikeshare). What on earth are we waiting for? Perhaps for legislators like Bill Howell to stop considering the protection of cyclists to be "stupid." I'd argue that anyone who thinks that is themselves not the sharpest tool in the shed...

lowkell :: Sen. Chap Petersen's Political Director Getting "Doored" Leads to Virginia Bicycle Legislation
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Chap's blog post explaining the dooring bill- (0.00 / 0)

"Dooring" Bill - Yes, it is About the Bike

The session hasn't even started and one of my bills is getting a fair amount of PR, both positive and negative.  In a Post article, SB 736 was referenced as "quirky" and then was impliedly relegated to the "stupid" pile by some important people down here.

Actually, it's pretty logical.  It simply states that a driver, who is opening a car door near moving traffic, must be accountable for any accidents caused by that open door.

Why is this relevant?  Am I restricting personal freedom?  Common sense?

No, it's about safety.  As bike lanes become more prevalent in our urban areas, "dooring" has become a major threat to cyclists.  It's a threat because there is no way to prevent accidents and serious injuries.

A "dooring" occurs when a bicyclist is legally traveling down a bike lane or a roadway (not a sidewalk).  A driver's side door way is thrown open, causing a collision and sending the bicyclist flying over the handle bars.  Permanent injuries or even death can occur from an accident that might otherwise appear innocuous.

Right now, the driver is not at fault.  They are permitted to open the car door at their discretion.  There is no law to find them negligent of causing the injury.

My bill would change that by shifting the responsibility to drivers to open their doors safely - and otherwise keep them closed - when there is oncoming traffic.   The maximum civil penalty for a violation ($100) is not large but the law will do two additional things:  (i) raise awareness that "dooring" is illegal and (ii) shift legal responsibility to the driver if there are injuries and property damages from a "dooring" accident.

Since drivers are in the best position to avoid "dooring" accidents, that is only fair.  Incidentally, over 20 states, including Maryland and D.C., already have this law.

Now that I've explained it - is it really all that quirky?


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