My First Crash: Lessons Learned

During my first months working at MassBike I was spending time adjusting to my new bike, riding to work and to the idea of being almost car-free. After I moved to Brookline, my commute doubled and, despite the more intimidating route on Beacon Street, I was enjoying the change in weather and the longer ride. Two Sundays ago, I decided to take a bike ride around 5pm.

Then it happened – I was doored.

It happened so fast and I was in such a state of shock my brain shut down. A driver broadsided me with her car door and after I fell, another passing vehicle ran over my foot that was sticking out in the road.

Despite all of this, my first reaction: I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine.

I made it out with a broken finger; My bike was unscratched!

What happened next is where my experience working at MassBike should have guided me. I should have called 911 and insisted on getting the names of both drivers and their license plate numbers. I didn’t do this. Both drivers made sure I was OK, and the woman who doored me walked me back to my apartment. Despite being somewhat kind to me, she told me she wasn’t at fault and would not give me her information. I was in shock, I didn’t respond.

A few hours later I was taken to the emergency room by a family member and was told I have a broken finger, and (luckily) a severely bruised foot. Despite the cast on my dominate hand, I had really great luck and will be good as new soon.

I chose to share my story publicly to let everyone learn a lesson from this crash. A lot of what I learned could already be found at our website, Same Roads Same Rules. Most importantly, I don’t want to deter anyone from biking; I have every intention of riding everyday again after I am fully recovered.

Riders:

1. No matter your confidence level, always ride defensively. Be aware and alert. Despite the increase in bicycling, many motorists still do not pay attention to cyclists, so we have to be extra careful to ride safely. For safe riding tips, visit our bike skills page.

2. Don’t be bullied. Even if there are cars behind you, it is more important to maintain a safe distance from potentially opening car doors than to cave to pressure to ride too far to the right. Remember, your safety is the most important thing of all.

3. If you are injured in a crash, seriously or not, call 911. I experienced the adrenaline rush that can cover serious injuries. Insist on getting the driver’s information, just like if you were in a car crash.

4. File a police report within 5 days. Even if you don’t get the other party’s information, file a police report. These records are crucial to tracking crash data which can lead to improvements in road design or enforcement.

Motorists:

1. Be aware of cyclists not only while driving, but as you are exiting your vehicle. It is completely your responsibility (driver or passenger) to look before you open your door. According to state law, it is illegal to open a car door without looking first, and if you hit a cyclist or pedestrian, you could be fined and are liable for damages.

2. If you are involved in a crash with a bicyclist, and there are injuries (serious or not), call 911. It is a serious offense to walk or drive away from a scene of a crash. If the bicyclist insists that they are “fine”, you need to call anyway, the bicyclist could still be injured.

If I had it to do over again, I would have insisted that the drivers stay at the scene until an ambulance and police arrived. I am lucky to have insurance, and so getting medical care was not a problem – there are some people with high deductibles or who still do not have health insurance. Furthermore, just like in a car crash, if my vehicle (bicycle) had been damaged then the driver’s insurance would have had to pay for repairs.

Unfortunately, we aren’t yet in a place where drivers take bicyclists seriously and want to blame us any time anything happens. Sometimes they are right, but this time they weren’t. We need to be informed and our own strongest advocates. God willing, this won’t happen again. If it does, I’ll be much better prepared. Take a lesson from my situation and be prepared, too.

Click here to view the bike law update which makes door-ing illegal.

Also, click here for some great tips on what to do if you are involved in an accident.

Don’t be afraid to ride, just be alert and ride safe!

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3 Responses to My First Crash: Lessons Learned

  1. Karen McPherson October 11, 2012 at 6:01 pm #

    i, too, lost the use of a finger on my dominant hand from a dooring accident a couple years ago. i must say, however, that the man who opened the door was bereft, and his insurance company paid VERY good attention to me. i know it was a total accident – he was not paying attention as he should have been doing, but whether he was charged or not would not have altered the fact that my right hand is now not so good for writing, holding change, opening bottles, etc.

    i would love to see more driver education training classes instructing drivers always to open their doors with their right hands – which forces them to turn and look behind them.

    luckily, i still can ride – but nice handwritten notes are a thing of the past.

  2. Rachel October 11, 2012 at 7:05 pm #

    Samantha, Thank you for sharing your story! Over 7 years of commuting, I too have had a few accidents, and your impulsive response was similar to mine. However, my first experience was with an elderly driver who blamed me, so I got mad and insisted on asking for his id and when he could not find it, I called the police. After that experience, I learned to always ask and always report. I still jump up saying “I’m fine” but have learned to record all the details just in case.

  3. Arne Buck October 21, 2012 at 4:55 pm #

    I’ve been doored twice within Boston city limits. Each time the person opening the car door insisted she, and he, did nothing wrong. I must have been going too fast or should have been riding elsewhere on the road, or even on the sidewalk. The first time, I was riding eastbound on Commonwealth Ave., just west of Clarendon St., between the parked cars and the rightmost of the two lanes of traffic. Two taxi cabs were stopped at the red light and I was braking to stop at the light. The light turned green, the first cab took off, while the second cab remained stopped. I hit my brakes hard; when was the last time you saw a Boston cab stopped at a green light? Sure enough, the passenger suddenly opened her door, which I hit and I went down. The cabbie was most helpful, gave me his information immediately, while the passenger said she was not involved and refused to identify herself. Within a couple of minutes, a Boston cop rolled up, asking if everything were OK. The passenger said, yes, everything is fine, while the cabbie and I disagreed. She eventually said she wanted to do the right thing. The cop asked who opened the door? She admitted that she did, but I must have been riding too fast in order for her door to hit me, even though I was stopping for the light. The cop responded that she *was* in fact involved and the right thing to do was to identify herself. She did, and eventually I heard from the cabbie’s insurance company, which reimbursed me for the damage repairs to my bike.

    The second time was while riding westbound between the traffic lane and the parked cars on Stuart Street, again as I was coming to a stop at Charles Street, when a parked car opened its driver door just in time for the top corner of the door to hit my sternum, quite knocking the wind out of me. The driver said he would not identify himself, I was at fault, I should have been on the sidewalk. A minute or two later a Boston squad car rolled up. asked if things were OK, the driver said yes, officer, everything is fine. I said, no, this guy just doored me. The driver said it was my fault, I should not have been on the road. The cop asked the driver where I should have been riding my bike. “On the sidewalk, of course” was the driver’s reply. The cop informed him that is it illegal to ride a bike on the sidewalk. After all, if this wasn’t a business district, I don’t know what is. The cop extracted the information from the guy, and I did contact his insurance company, as he did not report the accident.

    Two major things I got out of these doorings. (1) I have never collided with a car, or any part thereof, when I am riding in front or behind a moving car. Only when I am to the side of a moving, or potentially moving, car have I been hit. I now ride very mindfully of this fact, being sure to stay ahead of traffic whenever and wherever I can, without being too obnoxious about it, despite the honking horns and hurled epithets–they will get to their destination, albeit 10 seconds later, but I may not. I realize just how scary my 200 lb. bicycle and rider is on the road and especially just how intimidating we are to the 4000 lb. SUVs. C’est la vie. (2) You can’t be too visible. Ever since that second dooring while riding in city traffic (especially in Cambridge or Boston or NYC), I put on my flashing front white light. I’ve not been doored since. (I’ve not been attacked by tigers, either, so there’s that side benefit to consider. P^)