It’s a simple rule for drivers: When getting out of the car, use your right hand instead of your left to open the car door. The move forces drivers to look over their shoulder and check for oncoming traffic. In many states, opening your door in a dangerous manner (like, say, right in front of an oncoming cyclist) is illegal, and “doorings” are a common cause of bicycle accidents.
The move itself is now often known as “the Dutch Reach.” Public officials have embraced the technique, adding it to manuals and highway codes across the U.S., the U.K., South Australia, and parts of Canada. In Washington State, Massachusetts, and Illinois, drivers manuals now display a funny little icon of a person sitting in a driver’s seat reaching across their body with their right hand to open the driver’s side door.
Michael Charney, a 73-year old activist and retired doctor, started the campaign to make the Dutch Reach (a term he coined) part of driving curriculum in 2016. He named it the “Dutch Reach,” because he heard the technique was used in the Netherlands as way to pass the country’s stringent driver’s licensing test–more of a life hack than something that’s formally taught. The Netherlands also has an enormous number of bicyclists, and the government has invested heavily in biking infrastructure. Last year, the Dutch government agreed to spend roughly €500 million on bike infrastructure. The number of bicycle deaths in the Netherlands was 206 in 2017–a roughly 21% drop since 1997, according to the Netherlands’ Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek.
Charney gained some early traction in his hometown when the Somerville Police posted a sign about the Dutch Reach following the death of a cyclist. But it wasn’t until Outside magazine published a video explaining the technique that The Dutch Reach came into the spotlight. “When we pull up to a parking spot, most of us don’t think about how we’re going to open our car,” Outside’s fitness editor explains in the video. Reaching over to open your door with your right hand may not be intuitive, but it could become routine if a person makes it a part of their usual exit strategy. His campaign to change the way we exit our cars has subsequently been covered by the Boston Globe, PRI, and the New York Times.
In 2018, Berlin ran a campaign supporting the Dutch Reach, and though New York City didn’t call it out directly, it did include the right hand reach in a training video aimed at professional drivers. In addition to states and countries considering ways to incorporate this method into their training materials and public safety dialogues, some organizations have joined in the promotion of the Dutch Reach. The National Safety Council and AARP have both appended the technique to their driving courses.
“You’re swapping one thoughtless habit for another thoughtless habit,” says Charney. “It’s very easy to turn around and do a shoulder check–it also inhibits your ability to fling your door open.”