People seldom charged when cyclists get ‘doored,’ Vancouver data shows

It’s been five years since Jesse Blanchard was hit by a car door while riding his bike along Vancouver’s Commercial Drive, but the pain in his back still lingers.

Blanchard, now 28, was heading south towards Kitchener Street on a busy Valentine’s Day evening when, seemingly out of nowhere, a door swung out into his path.

“I must have gone flying because the next thing I knew I was on my back and my feet were facing the car,” Blanchard said. “I must have done a flip or something.”

The strip of Commercial Drive between Parker Street and E 15th Avenue has among the most door-prize incidents in Vancouver, according to data Global News obtained from ICBC, the province’s public insurer.

Other dooring hotspots include two stretches of Main Street –from E 8th Avenue to E 19th Avenue and from Alexander Street to Milross Avenue – and portions of Robson Street and Abbott Street.

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READ MORE: Why College Street is Toronto cyclists’ ‘dooring zone’

Opening your car door on a cyclist is illegal. But almost no one gets charged, Global News has found. That’s news to the city of Vancouver, which now says it plans to act on Global News’ findings.

A provision in B.C.’s Motor Vehicle Act forbids people from opening a car door on the side of moving traffic unless it is safe to do so. But Vancouver police issued only 22 tickets for the offence between 2009 and 2013. In that same period, 370 dooring incidents were reported to ICBC. And that figure only includes incidents serious enough to trigger an insurance claim.

Interactive: Explore our map of Vancouver’s dooring incidents. Click a hexagon for details. Enter a location in the box to search. Double-click to zoom; click and drag to move around.

Vancouver doorings, 2009-13 »

Vancouver doorings, 2009-13

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Asked why the number of tickets issued is so low, Const. Brian Montague says Vancouver police rarely get called to attend dooring incidents.

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“Our officers generally attend only those collisions involving serious injury, death or significant damage,” Montague said in an email.

He added that he can’t speculate about collisions without knowing all the relevant details.

“At any collision our officers attend, regardless of the circumstances, they need to first consider if there is evidence to support a charge under the [Motor Vehicle Act] and, second, if it is appropriate given the circumstances to issue a ticket. …

“There may be a variety of reasons a ticket is or is not issued, starting with if police were called in the first place.”

The consequences of the infamous “door prize” – a term cyclists use to describe getting hit by a door – can be dire. In some cases the force of the door can cause the cyclist to go flying into oncoming traffic.

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READ MORE: ‘I flew over his door and hit my head’: Your dooring horror stories

Erin O’Melinn, executive director of Vancouver advocacy group HUB Cycling, has heard of cyclists dying after being struck by a door.

“I don’t think that the majority of people who are driving realize that people can be really seriously injured,” she said.

David Hay, a Vancouver lawyer who represents injured cyclists, recalls an incident in 2001 when 40-year-old actor and playwright Keith Provost died after being struck by a car door.

Provost had been travelling west along W 16th Avenue near Trafalgar Street on the afternoon of Saturday, June 23 when he was struck, Hay said. Provost’s helmet didn’t save him: He succumbed to his injuries the next day. So far there have been no reports of legal action taken against the driver, Hay said.

Hay said he works on roughly 40 to 50 dooring cases a year. Virtually all of them include serious injuries such as broken shoulders and knees, soft tissue injuries and head trauma from the rider’s skull hitting the pavement.

“Almost every dooring case that I’ve been involved with involved reasonably serious injuries that required treatment, hospitalization, loss of work and fairly extensive suffering,” he said.

Getting doored can cause psychological trauma, as well. Blanchard was haunted by nightmares after his accident.

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“It took me a bit to feel okay on my bike,” he said. “I’m now definitely super, super aware and have dodged a couple of doors because I’ve had that experience.”

Over the past 25 years, Hay has watched Vancouver’s cycling population grow – and with it, the number of door prizes.

Although he called the laws around dooring “reasonably robust,” Hay said police don’t enforce them strictly enough.

“They often investigate it in a very cursory way and send the parties to our public insurer in B.C. and say, ‘It’s an ICBC matter, so off you go.’”

Issuing demerit points for careless door opening could remind motorists to be more cautious, Hay said. The Ontario government recently announced plans to increase the fines and issue three demerit points to drivers who door cyclists.

Global News’ findings are news to Vancouver city councillor Heather Deal, liason to the city’s active transportation policy council.

She said she plans to incorporate them into the city’s transportation plan, and to launch an awareness campaign to let both drivers and cyclists know that opening a car door carelessly into traffic is a ticketable offence.

“Perhaps people don’t even realize that there’s something on the books that they can charge somebody with,” Deal said. “It’s a terrific opportunity for awareness-building.”

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Global News contacted the campaign teams of mayoral candidates Gregor Robertson, Kirk LaPointe and Meena Wong for comment. Vision Vancouver and the Non-Partisan Association declined to comment, while the media representative for Meena Wong’s campaign team did not respond to emails and calls.

READ MORE: Roads with parked cars pose greatest risk for cyclists: UBC study

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