My last inbound trip on RapidRide Friday was stuck in heavy traffic on 3rd Ave. It turns out the cause was one of our trolley buses stopped on 3rd after hitting the door of a parked car, presumably after the driver opened it without looking to see if the lane was clear. (This is known as a “Door Prize” and is, sadly, quite common)
I made an announcement to inform my passengers of the reason for the delay and used the opportunity to provide advice on how to avoid such a collision: open your car door with your right hand and check the oncoming traffic before opening it. This advice is so simple and easy and yet it commonly goes unheeded. Interestingly enough, the Washington State Driver’s Guide informs prospective drivers “If parked at a curb, look before you open any door in the path of a car, bicycle, or pedestrian”. This information is contained in the “Space for bicycles” section, but easily could be part of a general safety tips section. After all, buses, trucks, and other cars travel next to parked cars – all of which can do a lot of damage. Checking the oncoming traffic won’t just potentially save a cyclist’s life, it may also save your fingers.
As I was driving a 271 out of Bellevue Transit Center this morning I noticed a car with a smashed driver’s side door and broken glass all over the ground. A woman, who thankfully appeared uninjured, was speaking with two police officers. At the time, I didn’t think much of it and just continued on my route. It turns out the damage was courtesy of a Metro bus coupled with her lack of understanding what awaited her door in the moving lane of traffic she was opening it into. Apparently, she was *sure* it was the bus driver’s fault – not hers – so she insisted that the Police respond to the accident. Bad call…
When you are opening a car door into traffic, it is *your* responsibly to verify that it is safe to do so and that it doesn’t interfere with other traffic. Don’t believe me? Check out RCW 45.51.620. A supervisor I spoke with after all of this recalled the many accidents he responded to exactly like this one. In many of the cases, the drivers had the same reaction and insisted that the bus driver was at fault, that King County was responsible for the damage, and that the police be called. Each time this happened, he warned them that they would most likely receive the ticket, not the bus driver. To date, he has been proven correct each time.
Seriously, people, can you spend a few seconds to look in your mirror and make sure you aren’t going to injure a cyclist, have your car door removed, or worse?
[ UPDATE: 1/21/2012 – I’ll be honest here and say that when I hear stories like this at Metro, I’m not always sure they are completely true. The rumor mill at Metro can be a little like a game of “Telephone” on steroids. That said, I was chatting with another supervisor recently about this particular story and asked if he knew it was true. “Absolutely” was his answer. He knew details about which route, the exact location of the collision, and why the cop gave this guy the ticket. So, be safe out there when opening your car door – you might damage your car, get a ticket, or worse… ]
Today somebody opened his car door in front of my bus, obviously without looking. I honked and slowed the bus enough to give him time to slam his door shut. To be honest, I’m not 100% sure I would have hit him – I try to stay as far away from car doors as possible, but Seattle streets are narrow! Still, it was a little too close for comfort.
This incident reminds me of a story I recently heard from one of the supervisors at Metro. He was on the scene of a bus vs. car door/driver’s hand. The driver of the car had opened his door into traffic without looking and had his car door, along with three of his fingers, removed by the bus. As he was being wheeled away to the ambulance the police officer at the scene handed him a ticket for failure to yield.
So… The next time you are opening your car door into traffic do yourself a favor and LOOK behind you and open the door slowly while still looking. This is also a good idea so you don’t hit a cyclist!