Bicycle Riders in Virginia at Risk of Injuries from ‘Dooring’ Accidents

With more and more Virginia workers commuting by bicycle, dooring is a growing hazard. The collisions are a cause of serious injury to cyclists.

Often, bikers are found at fault for accidents in which they can’t stop before slamming into a car door that just appeared in their path.

The legal loophole has allowed insurance companies for negligent drivers to reject claims for medical expenses filed by injured cyclists. A citation from police would assess fault for a dooring accident, thus supporting compensation for an injured bike rider.

Forty other states and the District of Columbia already make it illegal to open a door into the path of a cyclist, the Washington Post reported.

Legislation to have prohibit vehicle drivers and passengers from opening a vehicle door into the path of an oncoming cyclist failed to win approval recently in the Virginia General Assembly.

The bill would have prohibited anyone from opening the door of a motor vehicle on the side of moving traffic unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so. The legislation was on its second trip through the Virginia legislature, where it passed the Senate but was rejected by the House Transportation Committee. Its sponsor, Democratic Senator Chap Petersen, is from Fairfax County in Northern Virginia, and the legislation was seen as especially helpful for cyclists in urban areas, including Norfolk, Virginia Beach, and Richmond.

Petersen intended to encourage drivers and passengers to open their car doors with care to avoid bicycle wrecks. The fine for dooring would have been $50, but from the get-go the bill hit hurdles, and a Virginian-Pilot columnist skewered Petersen’s proposal as frivolous and meddlesome.

Petersen decided to present the legislation in part because of an email he got from a voter who was injured in a dooring accident on his bike. The email concluded: “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.”

The legislation may have made it safer to ride a bike in Virginia, where 11 cyclists were killed in traffic accidents in 2012. For the time being, however, dooring cyclists is still legal in the state of Virginia.

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