To Do While Isolating: Write a Letter in Support of the Dutch Reach

Illustration from the Boston Globe
Illustration from the Boston Globe
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UPDATE: The California Legislature has suspended hearings until April 13, although that could change later.

It’s hard to concentrate on anything that is not coronavirus-related, but after a certain point worrying about supplies while you’re stuck at home will not help. If you’re looking for a positive distraction, you could spend some time thinking about how to ensure safer driving habits in the post-COVID future.

And write a letter to the Senate Transportation Committee in support of a bill to do that.

The California Bicycle Coalition is sponsoring a bill that would require the DMV to add information about the so-called “Dutch Reach” to its educational materials for drivers.

The “Dutch Reach”–also called “the far hand method”–is a driving habit that could help prevent serious injuries and deaths from dooring, where drivers open car doors in front of people on bikes or scooters. The method involves adopting the practice of always reaching to open the driver’s side door with the hand farthest from it–so in the U.S., with the right hand. It requires a driver to reach across their body and turn their head towards the side and back, increasing the likelihood that they see a bicyclist were one coming up alongside the car.

“Every person that’s ever ridden a bike on streets across California knows very well the dangers of riding in the ‘door zone,'” said CalBike’s Policy Director, Linda Khamoushian. “A widespread understanding and practice of the Dutch Reach technique by drivers and passengers alike can reduce potentially life-threatening situations for bicyclists. We see this simple and effective method as an essential part of traffic safety and are encouraged by Senator Beall’s leadership to carry this message forward.”

The method takes practice, and habit, which is why CalBike wants people to learn it as a safe-driving habit when they first learn to drive. It’s known as the “Dutch Reach” because it became popular in Holland during protests over high traffic death rates in the 1970s, and the Dutch government eventually adopted it as a “best practice” required for passing a driver’s license test.

Other countries and U.S. states have adopted or recommended it, but California hasn’t. Yet.

S.B. 945 would require the DMV to include a description of the method in the California Driver Handbook and related publications, include questions about driving safely in the presence of bicycles in the “question pool” used for written driver tests, and permit one of those questions to be about the Dutch Reach method.

Including the information in the handbook would also mean it would be taught in the diminishing number of courses people take to learn to drive.

The bill’s author is Senator Jim Beall (D-Campbell), with co-authors Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and Assemblymembers David Chiu (D-San Francisco) and Ash Kalra (D-San Jose). It is scheduled for a hearing next week in the Senate Transportation Committee, which as of now has not yet been cancelled.

Meanwhile, if you do get in a car to go anywhere, teach yourself the Dutch Reach. It’s also useful for passengers, especially in areas where they might be dropped off next to a bike lane.

If the Transportation Committee hearing proceeds as currently scheduled, letters in support would be due by March 18; send them to this link or email them to estevan.ginsburg [at] sen.ca.gov.

While you’re at it, sign CalBike’s petition to adopt the Dutch Reach here, and write to your own state representatives about it (find them here).

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