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.