Update: San Diego cyclist dies two days after dooring

This is not the way we wanted to end the week.

Early Friday morning, a San Diego cyclist died of injuries he received after getting doored Wednesday evening.

The incident occurred around 7 pm Wednesday when 30-year old Justin Newman of San Diego was riding west on University Avenue near Kansas Street.

According to the Union-Tribune’s Sign On San Diego website, as he passed a 2008 Dodge sedan parked on the side of the street, the driver opened the door into his path. He hit it and fell into the street, suffering a major closed head injury.

He was pronounced dead at 1:30 am at Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego.

For a change, none of the stories I’ve seen indicate whether Newman was wearing helmet, even though this is exactly the sort of relatively slow-speed impact that helmets are designed to protect against.

And despite common perceptions that often blame the cyclist for running into a door, it is almost always the motorist’s fault when a cyclist is doored.

Under section 22517 of the California Vehicle Code, drivers are responsible for ensuring that the street next to them is clear before opening a door. And it’s been that way for nearly 50 years.

22517.  No person shall open the door of a vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless it is reasonably safe to do so and can be done without interfering with the movement of such traffic, nor shall any person leave a door open upon the side of a vehicle available to moving traffic for a period of time longer than necessary to load or unload passengers.

The driver should face criminal charges for Newman’s death under that statute, since there is virtually no way to door a rider without violating it. So it will be interesting to see if San Diego authorities, who aren’t always perceived as being supportive of cyclists, do the right thing.

Or if they say it was just another accident. And let yet another killer careless driver off the hook.

Newman was the 2nd San Diego area cyclist fatally injured in two days this week, and the 12th confirmed traffic-related bike fatality in San Diego County this year. He was also the 55th cycling fatality in Southern California since the start of the year, matching the annual total for the last two years on record.

Update: Chuck Lowery forwarded an earlier story from the Sign On San Diego site indicating that Newman wasn’t wearing a helmet when he was doored.

And that brings up a common misconception.

Bike helmets are designed to offer full head protection at impact speeds of up to 12.5 mph, and partial protection up to 20 mph. It’s highly unlikely that Newman’s head hit the pavement at a speed higher than that in a simple dooring; had he been wearing one, there’s a good possibility that he might have survived.

Where helmets offer little or no protection are the kind of high speed collisions most people wear them for. If you’re hit by a car or truck traveling at speed, a helmet may offer some protection, but it’s not a magic talisman that will miraculously protect you from injury.

Personally, I use something else for that.

And a helmet will do absolutely nothing to protect against injury to other parts of the body.

So by all means, wear your helmet; I never ride without mine. But know their limitations. Because the best way to survive a dooring, or any other collision, is to avoid having one.

My deepest sympathy to the family and friends of Justin Newman.

16 comments

  1. That’s eerie, I was just riding on that street a few weeks ago on vacation. In my limited experience, drivers were very courteous and passed me with three feet whenever I took the lane, in stark contrast to L.A. where they will buzz you to get to the red light faster. Still, it takes some moxie to ride vehicularly anywhere, and the door zone can be quite big in some places with these oversize cars.

    My condolences to his family and friends.

  2. Tony says:

    Where do you get the “partial protection up to 20mph” from? Its not in any of the standards they are tested to and given the square law relationship between impact energy and impact speed, 20mph is 260% of the design limit for helmets. If you speak to the helmet testing labs, the helmets on the market have trouble even meeting the 12.5mph test, which is why the current standards are lower than the older ones, let alone an impact that is two and a half times greater than the 12.5mph test.

    Did his head hit harder than 12.5mph? Well 12.5mph is the speed your head will hit the ground falling off a stationary bike. Add any forward motion into that and you are going over 12.5mph.

    The best solution though is not a helmet but training to not ride in the dooring zone. That way you avoid the accident in the first place rather than hoping a helmet will protect you from the consequences.

    • bikinginla says:

      I’m not sure where I got that particular bit of information, Tony. Those are the standards I’ve been using for a few years, and which I’ve seen a number of other places. However, at this point, it’s knowledge I have committed to memory; I’ll have to do some digging to rediscover exactly where I found those figures.

      In the “magic talisman” link above, Bob Mionske cites a single 14 mph impact standard.

      And as I noted above, I do agree with you the the best way to survive any collision is not to have it in the first place.

      • Tony says:

        CPSC is only one of the standards that can be used and it has an impact speed of 14mph onto a flat surface (= a stationary drop from a height of 2m) or 10.8mph onto a kerb (= a stationary drop height of 1.5m). I know of no standard that makes any claims for partial protection at 20mph.

        • Peter R says:

          A helmet is suppose to absorb enough energy from an impact into a stationary surface at 14 mph that no significant brain injury results. I suppose you could argue that in a collision at 20 mph, which has twice the kinetic energy of a 14 mph collision, that absorbing half the energy will convert a catastrophic head injury into a less severe one.

          In any case, I appreciate bikingLA remining people of the limits of helmets. Too many people think they are magic. At most they can provide protection in simple falls.

          • bikinginla says:

            Thanks for that, Peter. It’s quite possible I may have gotten that wrong, and with the nature of the web, it can be challenging to find that particular needle a second time.

          • Tony says:

            You could argue that but it would be completely unproven speculation. If you talk to the helmet testers most fail at or only a little beyond the test parameters by brittle fracture so its unlikely.

  3. Sam says:

    Thank you for pointing out CVC 22517. Very helpful in understanding what driver’s responsibilities in such a case are.

  4. Chandler says:

    I haven’t seen any indication as to whether there was a headlight or any other sort of flashing light on the rider that might have created better visibility in twilight or night conditions. I hope more details will come out.

  5. Steve Herbert says:

    Ironically, I too was on that very stretch of road the following evening and noted many cyclists out. It does require you take the lane to avoid a dooming incident and my first impression (not knowing of the incident the day prior) that I’d likely take one of the parallel side streets to avoid being placed in traffic there.

    My experience with near doorings commuting to work is as helpful a light is in getting drivers attention, those exiting a vehicle (myself included) don’t routinely look for anything approaching as they exit the car. It’s not that a light couldn’t get someone’s attention but rather they aren’t looking in the first place. This is a key bit of bike/driver education which next needs to be publicized…always check and look prior to opening your door.

    • Tony says:

      The Scandinavians have an interesting approach AIUI. Drivers are taught to open the door with their right hand not their left which automatically turns the body to look as you do it.

  6. Mark Elliot says:

    I recall a few years ago that Consumer Reports published a piece on bikes, with a sidebar on helmets. They reviewed only four (it was a sidebar) and found 2/4 to be not recommendable. It suggests that we need more rigorous testing, especially if the calls I hear for mandatory adult use are carried forward by legislation.

  7. Tony says:

    It would be a strange thing to do when the only thing mandatory adult helmet laws have achieved where they have been introduced is a reduction in the numbers of people cycling – by typically a third but for female high school students by 90%. Several countries are now repealing their adult helmet laws

    • bikinginla says:

      Perhaps it’s a way to deal with the “problem” of bicycling’s growing popularity.

      • Tony says:

        If that’s what you want to do, a ban on cycling would be far more effective – it would stop cycling head injuries at a stroke. Unfortunately it would be accompanied by an obesity explosion and obesity is set to overtake smoking as the leading cause of preventable death in the US. There is a strong correlation between those regions which have high levels of active transport (cycling, walking, jogging) with low levels of obesity.

  8. jim says:

    countries with the most helmeted cyclists also have the highest rate of cycling head injuries. And of course the converse is true: cycling head injuries are much lower in countries where cyclists don’t wear helmets very much.

    http://www.bicyclesafe.com/helmets.html

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