Dutch Reach becomes law in UK

A change to British road rules will now require motorists to adopt the "Dutch Reach" technique when opening doors, to protect people riding bikes. 

This means that drivers and passengers must use the hand furthest from the door to exit their vehicle – naturally ensuring they're turning towards the window, making it easier to spot oncoming bike riders. 

The method was adopted by Dutch law back in the 70s and has since become engrained in their culture. The phrase has also slowly infiltrated other road safety handbooks around the world, including South Australia's official Driver's Handbook.

It was also referenced by VicRoads in its 2012 “Look before you open” campaign when they asked drivers to “do a head check before opening your car door (one way to do this is to open the car door with your left hand)”. 

We know dooring is one of the most common crashes for riders and can cause serious injury and has even led to us tragically losing riders such as James Cross and Alberto Paulon. Bicycle Network has long been campaigning to draw attention to the issue. Track our campaign to stop dooring

Despite this, research published by Ford Australia in 2019 showed that more than 95 per cent of Aussie drivers were not aware of the concept. 

Following the official implementation into the UK Highway Code, a survey of 10,000 UK residents conducted by IAM RoadSmart found that 85 percent were unaware of the new rule. 

Neil Greig, Director of Policy and Research at IAM RoadSmart said just using the mirrors are ineffective at stopping incidents.

“Due to blind spots, dirt, glare, or improper adjustment, mirrors alone are ineffective in attempts to put the brakes on cycling injuries and fatalities caused by drivers and passengers exiting their vehicles.

“The Dutch Reach is also especially important for rear passengers, who of course don’t have the benefit of mirrors,” he said.

The proposal to include the Dutch Reach in the UK Highway Code was announced back in 2018, and the RAC’s head of roads policy at the time said there should be no “us versus them” narrative in safety, as around 20% of car drivers were also regular cyclists.

“We support the introduction of the Dutch reach principle to the Highway Code, a small change every motorist can make when exiting their vehicle that can make a huge difference to the safety of passing cyclists,” he said.

The Dutch Reach will be mentioned under an updated Rule 239 in the ‘Waiting and parking’ chapter of the Highway Code.

Ideally, a new law should be supported by an enforcement program. In any event, bringing attention to the issue can still be considered a win for road safety, especially for the future as a generation of new drivers are learning the road rules and how important it is to always expect to see people on bicycles.

Should we adopt the Dutch Reach law Down Under?

So the big question is, should Australian laws be changed?

Of course, like all behaviour change initiatives, the Dutch Reach has faced some criticism and critique, such as the door pillar blocking over-shoulder view.

But the method is gaining positive support around the globe and has been endorsed by some of the world’s biggest transport authorities, including The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the Beijing Traffic Police.

Technology is also starting to play an important role, with some new cars using sensors to prevent passengers from opening doors into the path of oncoming vehicles, cyclists or pedestrians.

We’d love to know what Australia’s bike riders think: is it time we went Dutch Down Under?

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