In some areas of Bristol up to 20% of road traffic incidents resulting in injury to cyclists are the result of motorists carelessly opening vehicle doors. In the last five years for which figures are available, 128 cyclists were injured in this way, 17 of them seriously (defined as requiring a stay in hospital) , and due to underreporting these figures are likely to underestimate the extent of the problem . Injuries from this type of incident are caused not only by impact with the vehicle but also, and often in the more serious and potentially fatal cases, when the cyclist is knocked into the carriageway and the path of following vehicles (see the case of Sam Harding in the compelling An Open Letter to the British Judicial System).
Safe cycling organisations recommend cycling “a door and a bit more” away from parked cars but there are situations where this is difficult or cyclists feel intimidated, say by fast moving traffic, into keeping closer to the side of the road. Cycle facilities are sometimes installed which encourage cyclists to cycle into the door zone and danger.
Also, a number of the incidents were caused by car passengers opening nearside doors to jump out of cars which had temporarily stopped in traffic. Whether carried out by a driver or a passenger, it is an offence under section 42 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 to open “any door of a vehicle on a road so as to injure or endanger any person”.
So what are the police doing to deal with this issue?
Figures provided under a recent Freedom of Information request show that in these 128 reported incidents of injury caused to cyclists by motorists, the police brought prosecutions in only 10 cases (9 of them successfully) . Given the police’s generally low rate of prosecutions for road traffic incidents involving pedestrians and cyclists and the recent finding that for the Crown Prosecution Service even fatal road traffic incidents “no longer enjoy the priority they had in earlier years” , these figures are perhaps not surprising. However it must be of considerable concern to most cyclists that so many are being injured and so little being done about it.
Following prompting by the Bristol Cycling Campaign’s Road Justice Group, Avon and Somerset Police have reviewed their handling of road traffic incidents and agreed to upgrade training and instigate new procedures, including more effective supervision, with a view to increasing the number of prosecutions.
Avon and Somerset Police have been asked as to what they plan to do to tackle this issue and Supt Richard Corrigan, force lead for road safety, has said: “We are aware of the issue around car doors and have discussed it with a number of cycling groups. We are committed to pursuing prosecutions for road traffic incidents where injury has been caused wherever possible and would encourage cyclists, as with all road users, to report incidents to us. We recently launched a cycling ‘near miss’ reporting mechanism on our website and reports of near misses will also help us build a picture about certain stretches of road or areas in the city where this issue may occur most frequently to help target activity and education.”
The Road Justice Group plan to continue monitoring the police’s performance to see if it leads to a better service.
Notes Source BCC Highway and Transport Management Service.  Reported Road Casualties Great Britain: 2013, Department for Transport https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/359311/rrcgb-2013.pdf page 34 “Under-reporting of pedal cyclist casualties”  FOI response dated 20 April 2015. 4 Joint Inspection of the Investigation and Prosecution of Fatal Road Traffic Incidents, HMIC, 2015.  Joint Inspection of the Investigation and Prosecution of Fatal Road Traffic Incidents, HMIC, 2015.