Ask MassBike: Opening Car Doors, Who Has The Legal Responsibility To Watch Out?

42-21548197We get a lot of questions here at MassBike, and we like to think we also give some pretty good answers. We realized that sharing these questions and answers on our website would be a valuable resource to others looking for the same information.

We got this question from Diane about an incident she had with a cyclist.

Can you tell me who is at fault if I open my car door and did not see the bicyclist. We avoided an accident but he got off his bike and yelled at me in the middle of the downtown street. I do not think I was wrong. I was parked on the side of the street and getting out of my car.
Thank you

Hello Diane

According to the law in Massachusetts, the driver of a vehicle is responsible to check to make sure no other road users are approaching before opening the door (this includes other cars, bicyclists, and pedestrians). You were at fault, but luckily no one was hurt. If you would have caused an accident you could have been sited on the spot with a ticket, and most likely would have been taken to court for damages.

You can read the relevant parts of the law here or here, or see below.

No person shall open a door on a motor vehicle unless it is reasonably safe to do so without interfering with the movement of other traffic, including bicyclists and pedestrians. Whoever violates the preceding sentence shall be punished by a fine of not more than $100. MGL chapter 90, section 14

While I do not condone people yelling at motorists, and I would hope that in the future whoever yelled at you would be more civil, getting hit by an opening door is one of the most painful and terrifying things that can happen to a cyclist. I am sure they were just full of adrenalin and not acting in the nicest manner. In the future I urge you to check carefully for cyclists and other motorists before opening your door.

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2 Responses to Ask MassBike: Opening Car Doors, Who Has The Legal Responsibility To Watch Out?

  1. Andrew April 8, 2010 at 1:28 pm #

    I was doored last fall in Waltham and walked away with only a broken wrist. Luckily for me the driver was a forthright person, and we sorted things out. Unfortunately, the officers had no insight into this situation. I was told by a reporting officer and later when I tried to report the accident at the department that this was not reportable as far as they were concerned. They said the car was parked, so it was not a motor vehicle accident, and I was told, “it’s the same as if you had slipped on the ice on your front walk.” Had the other person involved not been so helpful, I would have been SOL. This is why law officer training is so vitally important!

  2. Aileen April 8, 2010 at 2:10 pm #

    While drivers have a legal responsibility to check, cyclists should remain vigilant and take up space if they need to in the driving lane to make sure there is enough room for people to open their car doors and not hit you. It’s tough out there, esp. with the buses. I think we have to assume motorists do not see us and act accordingly.