The language of dooring

Doorings have been a hot topic of late as a Parliamentary committee concludes hearings on a Bill to curb injuries by tripling fines and incurring demerit points.

Doorings spiked in 2009 and 2010 but the impetus for change stems from the fatal dooring of James Cross in Hawthorn in 2010 and the subsequent coronial inquest.

So the reporting of a high-profile dooring on Thursday night was as welcome as the subtext was thought-provoking.

The Age’s Mayoral dooring report

The Age reported that the Lord Mayor’s car had been involved in a dooring ‘accident’ – the fifth story on doorings in May. The problem is the term ‘accident’. Crashes more often result from driver error and impairment than unforeseeable events, so we are seeing terms like ‘collision’ and ‘crash’ replace ‘accident’ in some quarters. Scientific American documents some of the car industry’s method in winning over a public displaced by cars.

The Herald Sun also reported the incident, headlining it ‘Cyclist ‘doored’ by Lord Mayor Robert Doyle’s car’ and ending with a quote from the Mayor: “It does show how careful we all have to be in sharing our roads.”

The first problem here is that we have a car allegedly dooring a cyclist which seems unlikely unless the Mayor is using the Love Bug or KITT.

The second problem arises when the Mayor suggests we “all” have to be careful. Agreed at face value, so long as we are not attempting to deflect responsibility from the door user. The Victorian road rules require that a person not cause a hazard with a car door.

The dooring rule in Victoria.

Most people don’t mean any harm as they fling doors open without checking for cyclists. And most people seem to think that using a machine safely without harming others is a reasonable expectation. It’s just the habit we have to break.

It’s great to see the incident covered but also disappointing that by our language we demonstrate we can’t fully shoulder responsibility for opening car doors safely. Because while it’s only words, they permeate our attitudes as drivers and passengers and jurors and road designers and Ministers who fund bike infrastructure (or not). Hopefully with time we’ll all become better door wranglers before anyone else is hurt, and understand why cyclists are riding wide – out of the door zone.

Edit 7-6-2012: This dooring has now made it to The Fredcast; listen at 34:32.


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