Home Transportation Sen. Chap Petersen’s Political Director Getting “Doored” Leads to Virginia Bicycle Legislation

Sen. Chap Petersen’s Political Director Getting “Doored” Leads to Virginia Bicycle Legislation

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You may have seen the story the other day about Sen. Chap Petersen’s bicycle “dooring” bill. It turns out that in Virginia, “there’s no requirement to be careful when opening a door, which means that if someone doors a cyclist, police can cite the cyclist for hitting the door instead.” Crazy huh? Even crazier is that this important bicycle safety legislation is lumped into his “stupidest bills” file by the egregious, right-wing/ALEC tool, House Speaker Bill Howell. If preventing bicyclists from getting injured or killed by automobiles is considered “stupid” by Howell, I’d hate to see what he considers a “smart” bill. Ugh.

Speaking of bicyclists getting injured, it turns out that the origin of Sen. Petersen’s bill is actually a bicyclist who personally got “doored,” and who now works as Petersen’s political director. Here’s his email, which he encouraged me to share on the blog, explaining to Petersen what happened to him (bolding added by me for emphasis).

Hey Chap,

Unfortunately, on Sunday, I was ‘doored’ by a car while I was bicycling. i.e. the driver of the vehicle swung their door open so far, and so quickly, that I was entirely unable to stop my bike before hitting the door.

To add insult to injury, I was assigned blame in the traffic incident for ‘hitting the door’. Thus, not granting me any medical compensation and adding the possibility that I will be charged for any damage to the driver’s vehicle.

After some convalescence, I spoke with the local Police Superintendent, who informed me that it is nearly impossible to charge drivers in this situation, because ‘dooring’ cyclists is not illegal in Virginia.

MD and DC have a law that says that “No person shall open any door of a vehicle unless it is safe to do so and can be done without interfering with moving traffic.”

My only option is to sue the driver in small claims court for the damage to myself and the bicycle.

Luckily, I made a semi-acrobatic landing, and only have bruises, shoulder and arm injuries, and a broken finger. I will likely make a full recovery. I’m going to the doctor tomorrow.

Lets change the law!

As Parker mentioned in his email, both Maryland and DC have laws on the books to protect bikers from “dooring.” Other states with such laws include: Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Rhode Island, Puerto Rico, Florida, Ohio.

In the case of Maryland, the law’s been on the books since 1974 – almost four decades ago. Yet Virginia has nothing, even though bicycling, both for commuting and recreation, is booming (as is Capital Bikeshare). What on earth are we waiting for? Perhaps for legislators like Bill Howell to stop considering the protection of cyclists to be “stupid.” I’d argue that anyone who thinks that is themselves not the sharpest tool in the shed…