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National

Massachusetts Goes Dutch To Protect Cyclists From Injury

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Massachusetts is going Dutch.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

It's become the first state to include the Dutch Reach in its driver's manual.

SIEGEL: The Dutch Reach sounds like a dance move. And it's a little awkward. Most people open the car door with the hand that's closest to it. For drivers, it would be the left hand.

MCEVERS: The Dutch Reach means doing the opposite, using the hand furthest from the door.

MICHAEL CHARNEY: When you use your far hand, you can't fling the door open.

SIEGEL: That's Michael Charney, a doctor and seasoned cyclist. He coined the term Dutch Reach.

CHARNEY: And it makes you swivel and turn your body. And you can look out and then turn your head, and you can look back. So you can see oncoming bicyclists.

MCEVERS: Charney lives just outside Boston. In that city, what's known as dooring caused 22 percent of bike accidents involving cars in 2013. There's no national data on the number of cyclist crashes that have been the result of dooring.

SIEGEL: The Dutch Reach comes from the Netherlands where a lot of people ride bicycles. Charney learned about it while reading the comments below a news story about a fatal dooring incident. He became an evangelist for the reach and got in touch with Steve Evans from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, who says the Dutch Reach just made sense.

STEVE EVANS: People were getting hurt. So we needed to do something. And Dr. Charney contacted me, and his Dutch Reach was just so simple and so commonsensical. I said, absolutely, let's get it in the manual. Let's start the conversation.

SIEGEL: Of course cyclists share the responsibility. Bill Nesper is interim executive director of the League of American Bicyclists.

BILL NESPER: As a cyclist, it's important that you pay attention to parked cars and you look for signs that somebody might be coming out of that car of course. And you want to make sure that you're not riding in what we call the door zone.

MCEVERS: But if that happens, it will be a bit less risky now that the Dutch Reach is being taught in Massachusetts. The state driver's manual now has instructions on how to do the simple but important Dutch Reach. Beyond that, Dr. Charney has some tips on how to adapt the habit.

SIEGEL: He suggests stickers or Post-its or tying a red ribbon on the door latch. Finally, if you just can't break the habit, he says, teach your kids to do it. Then they'll keep reminding you to do the Dutch Reach.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLAZO'S "NATURAL GREEN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.