Dutch Reach Project
Dutch Reach Project (DRP) closes a serious gap in existing road safety efforts to prevent “dooring,” a common, feared & at times fatal crash caused when exiting motorists - using their near hand - suddenly throw open their car door into the path of a bicyclist or other vulnerable road user (VRU).
To prevent dooring, DRP promotes the Dutch Reach (DR): reaching across to the door with the far hand to open - a much safer method.
The DR project is already gaining increasing attention and being taught across the globe.
Doorings are among the most common, costly & feared crashes in cities across the globe. Doorings are increasing as more bicyclists, mopeds & other VRUs compete with ever more vehicles on our roads.
Carelessly opened doors strike & injure VRUs much as if a sharp-edged wall were suddenly thrown up before them. Riders get impaled, crash into or are thrown over the door. A knocked handlebar or reflex swerve can cause cyclists to lose control & crash to the pavement, into the path of oncoming vehicles & further harm,
But many people are unaware of dooring and how dangerous it can be, or that unsafe lane obstruction can be illegal. Also many do not use recommended practices for safe egress.
Other solutions exist: better road infrastructure such as separated & protected bike lanes; better laws & enforcement; VRU sensing & alert systems; safety campaigns to remind motorists to look before opening; & for VRUs to avoid the door zone.
However location, cost, intrinsic efficacy, agency priorities & political will limit the use & success of these anti-dooring solutions.
Regarding motorists, “LOOK!” & “caution” campaigns little influence ingrained or impulsive behavior. People are often distracted or in a hurry once parked. And bicyclists have poor & limited options. While some bicyclists advise avoiding the door zone altogether, road safety authorities most often do not. For in most places cyclists are expected or required to ride on the side of the road, often within the door zone beside parked cars & at risk of dooring. Also, many cyclists do not dare use the travel lane for fear of unsafe drivers & large vehicles.
Even so, bicyclists also get doored from the opposite side, by passengers illegally exiting vehicles stopped in an adjacent travel lane.
Importantly, doorings are most always due to motorist error. Opening without exercising due care dangerously obstructs others’ right of way.
So how can WE be MADE to exit more safely?
The Dutch have a surprisingly simple solution: Open using the hand farther from the door. The Dutch call it “how you open a car door”! DRP named it the 'Dutch Reach' as motorists must ‘reach across’ to the door latch.
Unlike the near hand habit (NHH), this far hand habit (FHH) forces you to swivel outward to see the side view mirror and then to look out to the side & back for traffic before opening. It also curtails sudden & wide opening. This slowed opening can alert cyclists & perhaps allow time & space to avoid a crash.
Once the door is partly opened, motorists can lean slightly out & get a clear view back, able to retract the door if unsafe. The NHH however lets you throw the door wide open without checking your blind spot or retaining door control. Finally, once the FH method is an automatic habit, drivers will routinely use it, even when distracted, stressed or in a hurry.
After a fatal dooring in June 2016, DRP’s founder resolved to get the Dutch method into his state’s driver’s manual. DRP research found the FHH cited in a few prior anti-dooring campaigns elsewhere, but the method had gained little traction.
DRP instead conceived a web based, grassroots “Do It Yourself” strategy to promote the FHH. DRP would do research, outreach & networking, devise & share of campaign strategies & tactics. Bicyclists would pick up & carry the campaign locally, & contribute back to DRP evermore news, materials & resources for further replication.
For its launch, DRP suggested that local police text the Dutch Reach using mobile electronic traffic signs. Stuck in traffic, a journalist saw “Safer to Open/ Car Door/ With Far Hand.” His Boston Globe story about the DR excited a wave of media interest. This wave - still rolling - led to volunteer & stakeholder interest and an outpouring of graphics, videos, podcasts, blog posts, features, editorials & news on the DR. These DRP collects & shares back on its website. A virtuous cycle of media attention & DR advocacy has ensued.
Meanwhile, DRP continues outreach to bicycle & road safety organizations, police, state & local active transportation staff, elected officials & DOTs.
DRP seeks FHH addition to official driver’s manuals; highway codes; driver education texts & curricula; licensing tests for novice, commercial & hackney drivers; defensive driving & court-ordered driver safety courses; and road safety education & behavior change campaigns.
DRP has inspired replication in messaging, collaboration & institutionalization across stakeholder groups in numerous countries & languages. Private entities - transportation & delivery companies, automakers, insurers, solicitors & attorneys - also now promote it.
Further scaling is likely. Dooring is an issue in both developed & developing countries. Rising use of active transport vehicles puts more VRUs at risk. Experts now recommend & governments promote the FHH as a practical, life-saving measure. DRP is now an international resource for its adoption.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
To exit, DRP wants drivers to use their “wrong” [i.e. far] hand (FH).
Globally, prior to DRP, very few bike advocates & road safety experts knew or taught the FHH.
DRP laid the basis for professional evaluation & acceptance of this little-known practice. It researched FHH’s provenance, its history of use in NL, its relationship to Dutch traffic code & licensing tests, its role in Dutch driver education and its limited spread elsewhere.
DRP produced the first formal safety comparison of NH versus FH methods, which clarified FHH’s superiority & identified the NHH’s flaws.
As the Dutch merely called it “how you open a car door,” DRP coined Dutch Reach so the nameless FHH could be specifically talked about, cited & marketed as a social good.
DRP is an entirely volunteer grassroots web-based NGO. Yet it has made the DR a widely recognized best practice, taught & promoted by road safety & bike organizations, governments, driving instructors, companies & citizens world-wide.
What is the current status of your innovation?
Replication is largely proceeding on its own, especially in English & German speaking countries. DRP now also recasts its social media posts into other languages (using online translation apps & remote volunteer help) to seed awareness & advocacy elsewhere.
DRP deems itself a success. Yet while DRP stimulates & assists DR implementation efforts, local advocates & authorities must still “do the heavy lifting” in their own city, state or nation to ultimately alter motorist conduct.
Current project issues: DRP's website needs to be improved & paid staffing considered.
DRP’s strategy & tactics can be applied to other neglected VRU safety issues - such as truck blind spots, right & left hooks & overtaking incidents - by promoting VRU-specific signage. DRP has called for a “Sign Bike Safety” (SBS) project to crowdsource & disseminate needed & better bike/VRU safety signage. [See website: Advocacy Toolkit > Cycling-Org’s > SBS.]
Collaborations & Partnerships
Bicyclists contributed art, design, advocacy & research while experts in NL & Harvard University provided knowledge & mentoring [re: FHH in NL] for DRP’s launch and progress.
Massachusetts DOT worked with DRP to add DR to the state's driver’s manual, a first in North America.
DRP works with bicycle & road safety groups to promote the DR, most notably with League of American Bicyclists; Cycling UK; & the Automobile Assn. of America [which added DR to “How To Drive”, 15th Ed. (2020)].
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
DRP helps governments, companies & road safety organizations add DR to driver manuals, driver training programs & road sharing safety campaigns.
The DR prevents harm, costs & burdens to victims, perpetrators, families, friends, colleagues, companies, police, rescue & care-providers, other road users, courts, insurers, tax-payers & governments.
Safer road sharing encourages bicycling & other active, healthy, environment-friendly personal transport & also reduces traffic jams & congestion.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
Energized anti-dooring advocacy, focused on motorist responsibility & popularized a simple free fix.
Led driving & road safety experts to consider hand choice impacts on motorist egress & VRU safety.
Led to DR’s inclusion in state driver’s manuals, state & municipal advisories, novice & defensive driving textbooks, courses, road codes, etc.
Led governments & NGOs to conduct DR anti-dooring road safety campaigns.
Led bike & road safety organizations to promote the DR & advocate for government adoption.
Led transport sector companies for delivery & passenger service, driving educators, automakers, insurers & personal injury lawyers to add the DR to driver & client trainings & advisories.
Prompted media attention in 40 countries & 30 languages, & production of hundreds of graphics, audios, videos & animations, blog posts & established print & digital articles.
To the extent now used, reduced dooring risk, crashes, suffering & costs for VRUs & society.
Challenges and Failures
DRP needed to confirm the FHH’s Dutch provenance, authority & safety advantages versus the NHH.
Evidence, arguments & marketing were needed to overcome FHH’s obscurity & oddness, public apathy, skepticism & possible animosity towards bicyclists when asking drivers to swap out their life-long “common sense” NHH.
DRP’s mentor & a Dutch colleague attested to FHH’s Dutch provenance & respected authority. But neither the NH nor FH methods were ever subjected to modern human factors research. Hence DRP conducted its own examination and compared each against eleven safety criteria.
The results showed how the NHH fails, allows & even enables doorings: NHH permits door flinging, inhibits a full blind-spot shoulder-check, & over relies on side-mirror use.
Thus by provenance, safety & method, naming it the "DR" was accurate - & very useful for marketing because DR is descriptive, memorable & quick-off-the-tongue; & its odd name provoked near viral interest by the wired generation.
Conditions for Success
Success likely due to:
A serious road safety danger demanded prevention.
An effective but widely overlooked solution is recognized.
An at-risk digitally-connected cohort with its own groups, advocates & media voices. [Urban bicyclists]
Global issues broadening concern. [transport & environment crises]
Available home digital technologies for communication, research & marketing.
A skilled, motivated activist.
Standard & improvised strategies, tactics & ability to proof, document & communicate the solution & action requests to target audiences & decision makers. [VRUs, road safety, officials, media & public.]
Local & remote independent grassroots participants & collaborators linked by DRP staff & website.
~$1000 out of pocket over 3.5 years for equipment, web & print services, etc..
Predictable but randomly occurring news, posts & developments on topic were collected & served back via the web, fostering a virtuous cycle of interest, feedback, media coverage & replication.
The DR is now replicated &/or institutionalized well beyond Massachusetts, which added DR to its driver’s manual in 2017. Illinois, Washington, Pennsylvania, South Australia & NZ have now also done so. New York City & Albany, NYS; Burbank & San Francisco, CA; London; Telangana & Indore, India; Guardia Civil, ES; Montréal Quebec & Ontario, Ca; Dublin, IE; Stadt Berlin, Brandenburg, Hamburg & Stuttgart DE all now promote the DR via social media campaigns. UK’s Dept. for Transport is to add the DR to the UK Highway Code in 2020 after a DR campaign by Cycling UK with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents' support. NGOs L'association Prévention Routière, FR; National Safety Council & American Automobile Association, US; Deutscher Verkehrssicherheitsrat, DE; Brake UK; Liikenneturva, FI. & Irish Road Safety Authority - also now endorse & promote DR/FHH.
DRP’s process may be used for other road sharing safety issues, for better VRU signage & behavior change campaigns.
The ‘Power of One’: A motivated individual with a good idea can make a difference, a rather large one at that.
But to do so, much work & the help of many other concerned & committed people, organizations, business & civic entities are required to achieve a social good such as a mass behavior change.
Persistence (as well as some creativity & occasional ingenuity) is necessary to overcome hurdles.
A discrete yet widespread social good can be promulgated, & gains rapidly achieved, by soft linkage of independent volunteers & informally partnered organizations coordinated by a single agent using common low cost technologies.
Free agent activism - independent, non-credentialed, volunteered, self-financed, internally & idealistically motivated - allows great flexibility of action.
But such agents must generate legitimacy & authority for themselves & their mission by word, act & deed to earn hearing, respect & collaborations necessary to achieve the intended goal.
Habit change by road users requires awareness, motivation & repetitive practice. For many, advice alone is insufficient. As driving instructors ‘teach to the test,’ student drivers practice to the test. Hence, DR advice ought to be added to written exams & road tests for licensure. Police ticketing, larger fines, insurance penalty points & publicizing court cases & judgments will also motivate habit change.
DR functions both as a typical “dooring awareness” campaign and as a specific, habitual solution for both drivers & passengers. It makes a deeper impression as it assigns responsibility & correction where it largely belongs.
Skepticism about changing drivers’ conduct abounds. Skeptics cite NL as a special case. Yet in the 1970s NL had among the worst VRU & motorist fatality rates in Western Europe. [See NL's "Stop de Kindermoord" protest movement.] The FHH was part of their decades-long road safety revolution. The Dutch changed. So can we.
A young woman’s death by dooring provoked my campaign. I learned of the ‘reach’ that day. The success of DRP has astonished me almost as much as the FH revelation itself. For once launched, the DR just took off. DRP never issued a press release. I ‘launched’ DRP by encouraging local police to post Dutch Reach messages on mobile electronic traffic signs. One week later, a Boston Globe reporter saw the first such DR sign, called me & wrote up my project. Within two weeks a sports website which noticed that article posted a DR video now viewed 3.2 million times. Within one month I was interviewed by BBC/PRI The World (radio), which is broadcast to over 300 stations in North America. I rushed to make a website before the clip ran. On February 1, 2017 RoSPA (UK) adopted the DR. On May 30, 2017 Massachusetts DOT announced its inclusion in the state’s driver’s manual. I had set myself 2 years. Now 3 ½ years after Amanda’s death, DRP has met goals I had never thought to set.