‘Dooring’ bill dies in House committee

After passing the Senate last month, a bill that aimed to protect cyclists failed to pass the House Transportation Committee.

Update #3 — February 12, 2013; 4:04 PM

Today, the House Transportation Committee voted 7-7 on a bill (SB736) that would grant legal protection to cyclists struck by an open door, effectively killing the bill this legislative term. The bill had passed the Senate last month (see below).

Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax), who introduced the bill, said: “I’d like to thank everyone who worked so hard to get this bill as far as it did. This is a safety issue, and 40 states, even Alaska, have this exact law. You’re more likely to hit a moose than a bicycle in Alaska, I’m troubled as to why some people don’t want this safety law in Virginia.”

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Update #2 – January 22nd; 1:09 PM

Today, the “dooring” bill (SB736) passed the Senate in a 23-17 vote. It will now head to the House for consideration.

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Update #1 – January 17th; 7:15 AM

Yesterday, a bill that penalizes drivers and passengers of vehicles (SB736) who open their doors into the paths of cyclists and other oncoming traffic passed the Senate Transportation Committee in a 8-5 vote.

“We had a number of witnesses…that testified and supported” the bill, many of them Richmond cyclists, said Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax), who introduced the bill last month (see below). It will now go before the full Senate for a vote, likely sometime next week.

“I think it’s kind of a jump ball,” Petersen said of the bill’s chances in the Senate. He added that he’ll have to convince skeptical Republicans that the bill isn’t unconventional.

“This is not something new or extraordinary, it’s just a common sense public safety bill,” he said.

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Original — January 11th; 7:30 AM

State Senator Chap Petersen (D – Fairfax) has introduced a bill to curb collisions resulting from automobile passengers opening their doors into the paths of oncoming cyclists. The phenomenon is called “dooring,” and Virginia is one of few states with no law against it.

“We’re trying to condition people’s behavior in terms of getting people aware of bicyclists,” Petersen said about the bill. “It’s an awareness issue.”

It was Petersen’s political analyst who brought the issue to his attention. The analyst, who lives in Richmond, sustained injuries while riding his bicycle on W. Grace Street near the Village Cafe. He was struck by an opened door, and a police officer threatened to cite him, but relented. When Petersen heard of the incident, he was shocked. “I wasn’t aware that we didn’t have a law on the books,”1 protecting cyclists, he said.

If passed, SB 736 would require automobile drivers and passengers “to wait for a reasonable opportunity to open vehicle doors on the side adjacent to moving traffic.”2 The bill also stipulates that doors “only be left open as long as necessary.” Violators would be fined up to $100.

“It’s a simple penalty,” Petersen said, one that shifts “obligation and accountability” to those in automobiles. He underscored that those cited for dooring violations would neither lose points on their license nor be charged with a misdemeanor. He characterized the law as one “meant to resolve disputes” after an accident occurs. Moreover, he foresees the law preventing dooring incidents by encouraging passengers to be aware of their surroundings.

“That’s the kind of bill we need,” said Michael Gilbert, co-founder of Ride Richmond, which started in 2010 to “advocate and educate” local cyclists. Since he moved to Richmond in 2005, Gilbert said cycling “has exploded” across the city. He said many drivers aren’t “used to looking for cyclists,” and while he has not been doored himself, he knows several who have. He thinks the law is necessary. “I’m a driver and I’m also a cyclist…at the end of the day, it’s a positive law.”

Jakob Helmboldt, the City’s first Pedestrian, Bicycle and Trails Coordinator, said dooring is a significant hazard for cyclists. “I know a number of people that have been doored and it can lead to serious injuries by virtue of colliding with such a narrow, focused impact zone, or by resulting in the cyclists falling or swerving into traffic,” he said. “Quite simply it makes sense that in the event of a collision it would be the fault of the person opening the door, regardless of whether it is a bike or a bus that hits the open door.”

He also said it’s common practice for cyclists to pedal in the far right side of a lane, often next to parked cars, making them susceptible to dooring.3 But Helmboldt and Gilbert urge cyclists to remember that state law requires that they need only ride as far right as safely practical. This includes avoiding the space known as the “door zone.”

“Regardless of whether there is a law that gives a cyclist protection from dooring, it doesn’t do one much good if you still get doored, other than not being told you were at fault,” Helmboldt said.

While it may not end dooring outright, Senator Petersen hopes his bill will condition automobile drivers and passengers to be mindful of nearby cyclists.

The bill has been assigned to the Senate Transportation Committee, which will likely vote on the bill later this month. Should it pass, it will go before a Senate vote, followed then by deliberation and a vote in the House of Delegates, before it would reach Governor McDonnell’s desk. Sen. Petersen said he’s “fifty-fifty right now” about the bill’s passage.

“People are going to say it’s a frivolous matter,” he said, acknowledging a recent Washington Post article that derided the bill as “quirky legislation.” He added that supporters must help him lobby the bill, otherwise it’s “not going to make it.”

Ride Richmond has organized Bicycle Action Day. On January 29th, cyclists from across the state will convene at VCU and ride to the Virginia State Capitol Building where they will rally in support of Petersen’s bill, petitioning legislators to make it law.

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  1. You can read similar bills in Oregon and California
  2. Not just to cyclists, but to all moving vehicles (scooters, cars, buses, etc.
  3. Gilbert encourages drivers to open their doors with their right hand. Doing so pivots drivers in their seats so they can see oncoming cyclists. 

Photo by: BikePortland.org

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. james on said:

    sence when does it become the fault of the auto driver that the bike rider is not paying attention to his surroundings? it is getting so that the people that are not smart enough to get a drivers permit have more rights and say so about the people that do

  2. Michael Gilbert on said:


    If you as an motor vehicle driver open your door into the travel lane without looking for other vehicles in that travel lane, then it is unequivocally your fault. The cyclist is looking for hazards in the travel lane. If a door suddenly opens, how is a cyclist supposed to check for that? Meanwhile, the driver who is opening into the travel lane should exercise no care to ensure the lane is clear?

    By the way, I have a driver’s license but I don’t own a car. Freedom of choice. I decide what does or does not work best for me. Instead, I use ZipCar, so I do drive around. So even if it were about “more rights” (hint: it’s about common sense) since I have a driver’s license, and previously a driver’s permit, then your point is moot, because I’m having a say and have a license. Your mentality is the exact one I’m referring to when I say that most drivers are not used to looking for cyclists. Since cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as motor vehicles, maybe it’s time you start treating it as such.

    Michael Gilbert

  3. Not James on said:

    James, you are way off base here. Let’s go through a list of them to be clear. I’m not trying to be abrasive, but your line of thinking is frightening to me.

    1) It is everyone’s obligation to be aware of their surroundings regardless of the vehicle they choose to operate. Pedestrians, Cyclists, Motorists, Runners, ers, etc. Everyone should pay attention all the time.

    2) People do not ride bicycles because they are not smart enough to obtain drivers licenses. This is the most foolish thing you said in your comment. There are many great reasons to ride bicycles; fun, commute, ease of parking, economical reasons, healthy commute, environmental reasons, etc. I am an avid cyclist and ride everyday, but I also own a car and a motorcycle. Bicycles are legally allowed to share the road with other vehicles.

    3) Sharing the road with vehicles puts cyclists directly in this “door zone” that the article is addressing. The only indication that a cyclist has that a parked car contains a person is the taillights of the car being illuminated. If the driver has turned off their vehicle and are sitting in their car on the side of the road to read a text, finish a conversation, or scratch their ass, those lights weren’t on that whole time. They could be talking on their phone and open the door right into an oncoming cyclist who is trying to ride responsibly and WHAM!

    4) This boils down to you looking in your side view mirror and doing a head check before getting out of your car. Is that so hard? Before you cross the road you stop and look to make sure that there aren’t cars that are going to hit you. As a driver you look for obstacles in the road as to not hit them. Apply the same logic.

    5) Calling people out as not being smart and spelling the word “since” as “sence” makes you look like an asshole.

    6) Be respectful of your fellow humans.

  4. BrandyD on said:

    So, out of curiosity, who is at fault in this situation? Cyclists have to follow the rules of the road like motor vehicles. If a cyclist is riding within the line where cars are parallel parked and they get doored, wouldn’t that be the same as a car that crossed over that line and smashed a door off the parked car? Wouldn’t that be the moving vehicle’s fault? Now, if an opened door CROSSED OVER the line, and caused a cyclist to get doored I can see how the would not be the cyclists fault.


  5. Stephanie on said:

    This is not a “frivolous matter”! My grandpa’s first wife died on her bike because of dooring. Glad to see this bill!

  6. Stuart on said:

    BrandyD- if you open a door into moving traffic it is always your fault. Doesn’t matter where the line on the road is painted or what kind of vehicle you hit.

  7. Stacey on said:

    I don’t have a problem with this bill in particular but I do have a problem with bicyclists on back roads. I live in the country on back, winding and hilly roads. On Thursdays and Saturdays especially people are out riding and they aren’t in a single file line like the law says. I have seen them blow through stop signs and even traffic lights. One day I was behind a group of 13 on a back road by my mother’s house. They were riding two and three wide. I was not able to get past them for miles. I called the non-emergency number and reported it but was told there wasn’t a lot that could be done unless an officer sees it happening. I think that anyone using the roadways in a car, on a bike, motorcycle or scooter should have to be licensed and pay the taxes. If we are to share the road, we all need to share the responsibility of the upkeep of the road and obey all traffic laws.

  8. Rob Sterling on said:

    Are there any stats to indicate whether these laws have any impact on “dooring” or is it just a feel-good law with no expectation of actually improving the situation?

  9. Stuart on said:

    Rob I believe the point is that if you are injured or killed from being doored you or your estate can collect damages from the doorer. As it stands now no one is legally at fault (even though the doorer is at fault.)

  10. Michael Gilbert on said:


    Though I am failing to parse the relevance of your comment to dooring, I think we all agree that as part of the same rights and responsibilities cyclists are entitled to as motor vehicles, they should and ought follow the law. Just as some motor vehicle drivers break the law by not obeying the speed limit, some cyclists may act in the manner you describe. The key here is education – educate cyclists how to ride properly and legally, while also educating motor vehicle drivers on safe passing distance. Every group I have ridden in will call out when a vehicle has approached from behind and “singles up” if they otherwise would be impeding the flow of traffic. I am sorry you have a tainted view of cyclists, and hope that a few bad actors will not change your overall opinion of cycling.

    Michael Gilbert

  11. As a Firefighter for the city I couldn’t agree more that there are plenty of drivers who either don’t bother to look before they open their door and/or will just obstruct part of the travel lane with their door with little regard for their safety or the safety of others. I have often had to steer a very large, very heavy piece of Fire Apparatus out of the way of unaware drivers opening their doors into oncoming traffic…

    I have also seen many bikers who do not obey simple traffic laws – they weave in and out of traffic, they travel in traffic, they do not share the road, they do not obey traffic lights. I have not seen anything that would lead me to believe that these folks are willing to follow the rules if given their due. At times some bicyclists in the City are just as dangerous as vehicles….

    I am not bashing all folks who bicycle, I personally would do it myself if this city was more in tune with getting real about being bicycle friendly. Painting some lines on roads that are too narrow to handle parked cars and traffic and calling them “bike lanes” is not solving the problem. Designating several main thoroughfares as bike only would go a long way…

    Not to be disrespectful of those who have been seriously hurt or killed as a result of dooring – the long and short of it is that EVERYBODY needs to be aware of their surroundings more, drivers and bicyclists; EVERYBODY needs to obey basic traffic laws. You can legislate all you want, but the law of gross tonnage generally dictates who has a better chance of walking away…

    Be safe.

  12. Alexander Dahm on said:

    I don’t understand Chap Petersen’s strategy of presenting this very sensible bill establishing the responsibility to not quickly and without warning project obstacles into moving traffic as a cycling bill. This bill is a win for all road users, why then make it into a polarizing special interest issue, by presenting it as though its all about bikes. I would prefer the bill to pass, and I think its obvious that making it a bike thing makes that a lot more difficult.

  13. @Alexander Dahm – Exactly. As soon as you say “bike” people have to be up-in-arms about how cyclists skirt this law and that law and they use anecdotal evidence for this and that to make it seem like there is a mob of street toughs running red lights and terrorizing the neighborhood.

    The truth is, most of the time you CAN’T get out of the way of a suddenly opened door when you are on a bicycle. Same with a car to an extent. While ‘treating cyclists the same as car drivers’ is the law, the truth is you are far more vulnerable on a bike than in a car. This law would make it illegal to whip open your door without checking first. If a cyclist is injured (or a door is broken) there needs to be a law on the books that allowed the police to file a report and place blame in the hands of one of the parties. Personally, if you COULD have checked your mirror, you are at fault. Not if you COULDN’T possibly have swerved out of the way.

    Although what happens if a d-bag cyclist runs into a left-open car door they could have avoided just to sue the driver? I wonder what ‘as long as necessary’ really means in the second part of the law.

  14. Stuart on said:

    It would be a lot more likely for a d-bag motorist to intentionally hit an open door in order to sue for damages. But to your point, we do live in a litigious society.

  15. Chris Lacroix on said:

    In response to Stacy and riders cycling 2-abreast. Many states allow riders to ride two abreast; this is for the safety of the rider as it helps them become more visible to traffic. That said, Virginia law specifically states that riders CAN rider 2-abreast (side-by-side) as long as they are not impeding traffic. These riders should have fallen aside to let you pass, but they may not have had a safe opportunity to do so (or just ignored the law, or were ignorant of the law for that matter). Here’s a good high level view of the law: http://bicycling.com/blogs/roadrights/2010/04/15/two-by-two/

    While i completely sympethize with the folks stating that cyclists dont care to follow the law, i must also remind everybody that gross generalizations are a pretty bad thing in general.

    I understand you need to get home to see your family/do whatever you have to do, but so do cyclists. The only difference is a cyclist does not have a 2+ ton metal cage surrounding them that protects them.

    Please continue to respect cyclists as you have by not dangerously overtaking / passing. I applaud you for calling the non emergency line and not doing anything to endanger the riders.

    Cycling is an amazing sport, and we’re very fortunate to live in a state that has some amazing routes to follow (Richmond 2015 isn’t here by coincidence!).

  16. Michael Gilbert on said:

    Alex & T,

    You did not read Sen. Petersen’s bill. The text of the bill makes it clear that it applies to vehicles, in fact “bikes” “bicycle” “cyclist” – none of those terms are on or in the bill. Since bikes have the same rights and responsibilities as motor vehicles, they fit under the umbrella of vehicles. You can review the text of the bill here:


    This does affect bikes as vehicles because prior to this law being established, no fault could be assigned for dooring. That also applies if a motor vehicle driver opened their door into the travel lane and another motor vehicle struck it. The difference is people typically “see” another car coming, not necessarily another bike. Regardless, the benefits to cyclists should be clear.

    Michael Gilbert

  17. Michael Gilbert on said:


    Will you please email me when you are able? In regards to your grandfather’s first wife dying. Email: michael@riderichmond.net

    Michael Gilbert

  18. Alexander Dahm on said:

    @Michael Gilbert I have read the law, I like it. What I don’t like is that the law’s author has characterized this as a cycling bill rather than a general bill establishing liability on people who open their car doors into the travel lane without looking. There are lots of historical reasons to think that making this bill, which isn’t actually a cycling specific bill, into a cycling issue will get it killed or voted down. I’m not really sure why you think I haven’t read it, or how I can make myself more clear.

  19. dejavudu on said:

    So obv.

    I have heard of many cyclists being cited and/or blamed for dooring so this is a long time coming.

    Stacey, thanks for your wildly off-topic comment on rural cycling. Here’s an animation explaining how the inefficiency of bikes making full stops completely negates any practicality of bicycles as transportation:

    I have no comment on your country riders biking three wide. There’s no excuse for that but let’s try to keep the conversation on dooring, shall we?

    Smartest comment of the thread goes to Alexander Dahm.

  20. Rob Sterling on said:

    @Stuart – It doesn’t say anything about civil liability, it’s a moving violation under ‘regulation of traffic’. My understanding as a non-lawyer is that if the person on the bike had any ‘contributory negligence’ they’d be ineligible to collect damages. So if the cyclist was riding on the wrong side of the white line, didn’t have required lights, wasn’t wearing a helmet, i.e. was breaking the rules in any way themselves, they’d be unable to collect. And it strikes me that most doorings probably involve at least a little contributory negligence.

  21. Alexander Dahm on said:

    After all, I respect you too much to accuse you of thinking that the members of the general assembly only care about the raw text of the bill and not the politics and public perception thereof.

  22. Stuart on said:

    The law doesn’t have to detail civil liability, if you are at fault in a crash the lawyers will figure out how much you and your insurance have to pay for the damage you caused. That’s the problem with the way the law is currently written, no fault is assigned by statute in that type of crash.

    Maybe an actual attorney like Tom Bowden will comment on this.

  23. Alexander Dahm on said:

    @Rob – contributory negligence is an important issue, and you’re right I would wager that at least some of the time it would prevent a cyclist or motorist from collecting damages. So what? What about the times where I’m driving or riding along and doing it without being negligent in someway? Should this law not be passed because “sometimes” both parties share responsibility? That isn’t a very good argument. I know you’re a non-lawyer, but you must know that breaking a law goes a long way to establish liability in a civil proceeding. And to ease your previous concerns, yes, this is a real issue and not just a feel good bill. Vehicles are doored all the time.

  24. Citizen Tom on said:

    I was “doored” on the 2600 block of Floyd Avenue in the mid 70s. The gentleman who “doored” me, cursed me for going too fast and left me laying in the road. It was another biker who came along and helped me and my bicycle onto the sidewalk. I don’t ride my bike much anymore, but I do look before I open my door into traffic. Just as everyone should.

  25. I personally do not understand why anyone living in a city would not first check their side view mirror before opening and exiting their vehicle, it’s basic common sense. I think people on both sides need to be aware and pay attention, it only takes a moment but it could save someone from being hurt.

  26. Scott on said:

    Drivers can be so impatient. Take a breath and quit risking people’s lives.

  27. Dustin on said:

    Yeah, regardless of a law, I would like to think that basic human compassion would inspire drivers to check. It doesn’t matter whose fault a dooring would be, I don’t want to hurt anyone. Instead of focusing on a new law, how about a simple public awareness campaign? I’d be willing to bet most doorings happen because the driver ‘just didn’t think to look’.

  28. scott on said:

    it’s still important to have some sort of precedent in place so that people can get due justice if injury or damage occurs due to someone opening their door into travel lanes.

  29. You can’t expect a law to fix a problem that still has two parties pointing accusatory fingers at the other. It’s a feel-good remedy that doesn’t get to the heart of the issue: a cultural clash between two classes using the same resources. What’s needed is a genuine consensus, not kneejerk legislation that says who gets the ticket.

  30. Alexander Dahm on said:

    @Jeremy If I pop my door open into the travel lane without looking and hit a vehicle, why shouldn’t I get the ticket and be at fault? I would argue that clarifying who is at fault when two parties are disputing responsibility is EXACTLY what laws are there to do.

  31. downtownwatch on said:

    For all you people who think this is a unique law:
    40 other states have it. See map on link-

  32. Scott L. on said:

    This seems like a no-brainer to me. I wonder if it will change people’s behavior, though. I’m sure there are studies somewhere about whether citations and fines alter behavior over time.

    I would hope that most people would check their mirrors before opening the door out of decency. I wouldn’t want to cause injury to someone. I don’t need the threat of a fine to encourage me in that respect. I think most people who swing their door open do it out thoughtlessness.

    I wish we would, however, have a much wider discussion about the rights, responsibilities, and consequences of using the public roads. There is a lot of bad behavior all around that ranges from ignorance, to carelessness, to willful flouting of the laws. Laws like this are a welcome step in the right direction, but true progress will be achieved through dialog and education, not legislation.

  33. Anon E. Mouse on said:

    Fines alter my Behavior. Twenty dollars a pop for parking tickets, $60 for tow away zones, plus $150 if you get towed. It doesn’t take much of that to change my behavior, but why I should get a ticket when a kid comes skimming past my door at high speed? I don’t think so. We all need to take responsibility for our own behavior. When I’m on a bike I watch parked cars carefully and try to give them wide berth when possible. Narrow profile bikes are hard to see and most have no horns to warn a driver. If cyclists want to use the roads, then they need to take full responsibility for their actions. How many cyclists have insurance to cover costs of accidents they might cause?

  34. John on said:

    I’m no longer living in RVA, though I was a resident for 20+ years, so I like to keep up with my old “hometown”.
    I’m glad to hear this has passed the first hurdle in the senate. Hopefully it will be passed by the house and made law.
    Where I currently reside, Illinois, has had similar legislation on the books for a long time, but it was only recently that “dooring” collisions were tracked by the DOT here. They weren’t seen as moving violations and thus didn’t count. This made tracking the number of such collisions difficult, if not impossible. It was the lobbying efforts of the Active Transportation Alliance here in Chicago and various other cycling advocacy groups that were able to get these collisions reclassified and tracked. Push for the same in Virginia! Accurate data is important in trying to educate the public on just how common an occurrence these type of collisions are.
    And to “Anon E. Mouse”: It is your responsibility to check for oncoming traffic before opening your door in the travel lane. Seriously. Cyclists would love to not have to worry about this, and the common advice is to not ride in the “Door Zone”, but reality is such that this just isn’t always feasible or practical. The 5 seconds (or less) it takes to look over your shoulder for an oncoming cyclist can save a life.

  35. As I’m sure you’ve all noticed (likely excepting bikers who are guilty of this, who might just jump to being offended by this post) cyclists want to be considered part of traffic, yet abide by no traffic laws. The day that bikers stop at stop signs, quit running red lights, and don’t cut off cars in traffic will be the day I’m in favor of more “bike rights laws.” In the meantime, if someone is zipping around stopped cars at a traffic light, and I accidentally “door” one, I’ll feel badly if any injury occurs, of course, and try to help them out if need be — but I would definitely expect compensation for any damages to my property!

  36. FredInRVA on said:

    Wow, I fixed your post. Cars want to be considered part of traffic, yet abide by no traffic laws. The day that cars stop at stop signs, quit speeding all the time, and don’t cut off other cars in traffic will be the day I’m in favor of more “car rights laws.” In the meantime, if someone is zipping around stopped cars at a traffic light, and I accidentally “hit” one, I’ll feel badly if any injury occurs, of course, and try to help them out if need be — but I would definitely expect compensation for any damages to my property!

  37. Michael Gilbert on said:

    I love the fallacious arguments here. Even Alabama managed to pass a stronger dooring bill than this, and over 30 years ago!

    The best one is the red herring about cyclists following laws. I’m glad that every motor vehicle driver here in the City follows every law. I can sleep soundly at night knowing that no motor vehicle will buzz me with less than 2-feet passing and obey the exact speed limit on every road they’re on. I’m proud to live in Richmond, the only city in the entire United States where this is the case! Thanks y’all!

    Obviously there are a few bad actors. Don’t let the part ruin the whole. If you’re that jealous that a seemingly inferior means of transportation is actually more efficient than the car or SUV you spend thousands of dollars on each year, then maybe you should get on a bike sometime. Just saying.

    Michael Gilbert

  38. Jeffrey S. on said:

    Looks like the states that DON”T have dooring laws are the exception. http://www.cyclelicio.us/2013/an-american-survey-of-dooring-laws/

  39. @Michael Gilbert — I prefer to ride bikes in parks or on bike trails, where they are safe to be ridden (which could possibly explain why I’ve never been “doored”). I am sorry that my comment evoked such an emotional response from you. There’s no need to put down one of our beautiful states in its entirety; especially one which, as you stated, passed the law you support. You argue fallacy with fallacy: since some motor vehicle drivers don’t always obey traffic laws it’s ok for cyclists to do the same? Sure some drivers don’t always obey traffic laws – obviously there are a few bad actors. Don’t let the part ruin the whole. One notable difference is that motorists (when caught, at least) are held accountable when they break the laws, for which they pay doubly when this is reflected in their mandatory insurance payments. Said mandatory insurance also covers damages in the event of a collision. In other words, they pay for damages — not petition for special treatment and compensation. As a self-proclaimed “bike-safety advocate,” perhaps your time would be better served petitioning for bike lanes, or perhaps mandatory bicycle insurance, instead of wasting it trolling the internet.

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