'Teach the Reach' to make streets safer for cyclists

A Toronto MPP tabled a private member's bill to add the Dutch Reach to the Highway Traffic Act. Windsor cyclists hope it passes.

Drivers using their right hand to open their door have a better chance to see if someone is coming

Bridget Taylor and Oliver Swainson hope to see the Dutch Reach catch on in the city. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

One MPP is hoping to "teach the reach" to make the roads safer for cyclists.

Toronto area MPP Marit Stiles tabled a private member's bill proposing to amend the Highway Traffic Act to require the inclusion of the Dutch Reach. She wants to include the method in driver's education manuals, programs, and testing in the province.

Typically in North America, drivers open their door with their left hand — the one closest to the door. The Dutch Reach is when drivers open their door with their right hand instead. The motion makes your body turn, which gives you the opportunity to look to see if someone is riding or walking past your car door before opening it all the way.

"Oh I've been hit by a car. I've been hit by a mirror and I've been hit by a door," said Lori Newton, executive director of Bike Windsor Essex.

The injuries were minor, but Newton said it happens frequently to her and other bike riders. In 2017, the province of Ontario increased the penalty for improper opening of a vehicle door or dooring to a $300 fine and 3 demerit points. Previously the penalty was $85 and 2 demerit points.

Bridget Taylor and Oliver Swainson demonstrate the Dutch Reach. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

"We really need to be reminded that we need to look out for cyclists and watch out for them," said Newton.

Oliver Swainson, the mechanical education coordinator at Bike Windsor Essex has commuted on his bike for years and has had his share of close calls. 

"I've had doors suddenly opening in front of me while cruising in a bike lane and it's caused me to swerve around them and into the traffic beside me," said Swainson.

Swainson hopes that drivers take a little bit of extra time before leaving their vehicle to check that no one is coming.

Changes to the law

MPP Marit Stiles thinks this is a simple change that could do a lot of good. It's something she's heard about from her constituents.

NDP MPP Marit Stiles, who represents Toronto Davenport, introduced a private members bill proposing to amend the Highway Traffic Act to require the inclusion of the Dutch Reach. (Government of Ontario)

"I think it really is the reality for a lot of people who are cyclists in the city and in the province," said Stiles.

As more people use their bikes for transportation more and more the likelihood of being hit or nearly hit by a door increases. Stiles said data is not being collected specifically for dooring right now, but in 2016 there were about 200 incidents in Toronto.

"When I put something like this [question] up on my Facebook and said 'Hey who's been doored?' I can't even count the number of people who said they had," said Stiles.

Bridget Taylor and Oliver Swainson demonstrate how not to open a car door while a cyclist is coming by and how to do it the Dutch Reach way. 0:12

According to Stiles, the U.K. will incorporate the Reach in their next driver's manual. Massachusetts and Illinois are adopting it in their state legislature. The method started in the 1970s in the Netherlands.

Stiles will debate the bill in about two weeks at Queen's Park.

"This is just one part we need to do for cyclists and for road safety in our province," said Stiles. "What we really need, as well as this, is real funding for our municipal governments to be able to build the kind of active infrastructure they need."

About the Author

Stacey Janzer was born and raised in Essex County. Self-described Canadian treasure. She currently works as a video journalist at CBC Windsor. Email her at


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