The Guardian released a video yesterday which showed Chris Grayling, the minister for Transport, swinging open a car door into the path of a cyclist, knocking him off as a result. Ironically, it was only a few weeks ago that he told the Evening Standard that segregated cycle lanes “cause too much of a problem for road users.” If there had been a cycle lane he’d have been less likely to have knocked the cyclist off.
“Dooring” is a hazard that many cyclists will have had some experience of, either having to swerve to avoid it or actually colliding with a vehicle as in this case. But whose fault is it and what should you do if it happens to you?
In June of this year I’d just a picked up a vintage steel framed Bianchi and was flying down a one way street in Brixton, a lovely straight stretch, no traffic, loving my newly acquired piece of retro chic. Approaching a junction I moved to the right hand side of the road preparing to turn at the lights when Bang! I only saw the car door opening a split second before I smashed into it.
I flew over the car door, my beautiful new bike sommersaulting over me. I landed on my back, in the middle of the road, winded and dazed. Lying there for a few moments a passerby eventually helped me up and got me off the road. Luckily there hadn’t been any following traffic.
Once my brain had caught up with what had actually happened my first reaction will come as a familiar one to most cyclists. What’s the damage to the bike? It turns out that Edoardo Bianchi was making some pretty sturdy machines back in the 1970’s because, while the tubular tyre had been ripped away from the rim and the suede saddle had been torn, the frame, wheels and chainset all seemed okay.
My attention turned to the man who’d opened the car door. He was the front passenger and was now in an argument with the driver who was angry at him for the damage to his car door. No concerns about me however. He seemed anxious that I didn’t phone the police and he offered me 50 quid in cash there and then. Stupidly I accepted it and began walking home.
It wasn’t until the next day that I woke up with an aching neck and shoulders as well as a sharp pain in the ribs whenever I took a deep breath or coughed. Worse, it seemed that, on closer inspection, the original front wheel wasn’t in quite as good knick as I’d thought.
A couple of hundred quid later and with an aching body I began to seriously regret not reporting the incident or getting the details of the man who’d caused the accident. It’s not an uncommon thing to happen that a cyclist, relieved not to be seriously injured, gets up and rides away from an accident. Rather like the cyclist outside the Houses of Parliament. It’s taught me a valuable lesson about what to do the next time this happens.
The Highway Code is quite clear about who is culpable in this situation: motorists “must ensure that you do not hit anyone when you open your door. Check for cyclists or other traffic” and that it is a road traffic offence to open any door of a vehicle on a road “so as to injure or endanger any person.” A passenger can be found guilty of the offence should they injure a cyclist who is undertaking a stationary vehicle. This offence is punishable by a fine of up to £1000.
So it would appear that Chris Grayling could theoretically be prosecuted for this incident despite telling the cyclist the he was going too fast. Of course, that begs the question, if he could see that he was going so fast, why did he open his door? The minister left the scene of the accident without giving his details and only made a cursory check to see if the rider was okay and did not appear to check the bike for any damage. Meanwhile his parliamentary aid quickly tucked away his ID into his inside pocket when he realized there was a possibility they were being filmed.
If you’re unfortunate enough to have this happen to you, you may be in a state of shock without realizing it. You may also, like me, have suffered some injuries and not be fully aware of them. Nick Spain from Bott and Co solicitors specialise in these types of claims. He recommends that you treat a cycling accident in exactly the same way you would an accident involving two cars.
At his company many of the solicitors are cyclists themselves, taking part in charity rides like Lands End to John O Groats. They even sponsor their own professional cycling team based in Wigan. Nick says that it’s becoming a developing area of the law and that they have dealt with over 50 cyclists’ claims in the past three months.
Here’s a guide of what you should do:
1. Call the police. If you’re a bit dazed or disorientated you may not be in a state to sort the situation out yourself.
2. Get the car’s registration number, the driver’s insurance details and, if it’s the passenger’s fault, their name and address too.
3. If there are any witnesses around ask if you can take their phone numbers.
4. Take photos of any damage to the bike as well as any obvious damage to yourself.
5. When the police arrive take down the officer’s name and ask for the police case reference number. It’s a good idea to make an effort to keep him or her on your side as they may be responsible for investigating your case.
6. Beware of accepting money as that may be seen as settling the case.
7. Get yourself checked out at A&E. While it may be a nuisance, you could have suffered an injury without being fully aware of it. As in my case the combination of the shock of what had just happened and pumping adrenalin, meant that it wasn’t until the following day that I realised I’d suffered whiplash, cracked ribs and bruising to my shoulder.
8. You should then contact a solicitor who will act for you on a no win, no fee basis.
So, if a cabinet minister happens to swing his car door into you when you’re next passing the Houses of Parliament, don’t just blindly accept a handshake and pat on the back. You could well be owed compensation. The more that these cases are followed up on, driver awareness of cyclists will increase. And there may be one good thing to come out of this after all - perhaps even Chris Grayling will change his mind about segregated cycle lanes.