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Learn the ‘Dutch Reach,’ save a cyclist’s life

Video by Julia Dourgarian

In the Netherlands, among the world’s most bicycle-friendly nations, kids learn about the “Dutch Reach” in school.

Now, thanks to legislation that Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law earlier this month, bike advocates are hoping the simple hand-switching technique will take hold in Illinois, potentially saving cyclists’ lives.

“There is a lot of work to do to make our streets safer for everyone, but we definitely think this is a step in the right direction,” said Kyle Whitehead, a spokesman for Active Transportation Alliance, a Chicago-based advocacy group that promotes cycling, walking and the use of public transportation.

The Dutch Reach is already discussed in the 2018 edition of Illinois Rules of Road and, under the terms of the legislation, will be included in the pool of questions for the Illinois Secretary of State’s driver’s exam beginning on Jan. 1.

What is it exactly? Urban cyclists live in fear of being struck when a motorist — either in traffic or parked — opens a car door without looking. To reduce that risk, motorists should use the hand furthest from the door to open it by reaching across their bodies. That movement alone forces the body to swivel toward the door, making it more likely that the driver will spot an approaching cyclist.

Whitehead said data on the effectiveness of the technique is hard to track, but, he said, common sense suggests it works.

There’s clearly a need for greater awareness about bike safety, Whitehead said.

Citing Illinois Department of Transportation statistics, the Transportation Alliance notes “dooring” crashes are increasing in the state, particularly in urban areas. In 2015, in Chicago alone, there were 300 such crashes, a 50 percent increase over the previous year.

Earlier this month, cyclist Angela Park was struck and killed by a dump truck in the West Loop. Park, heading north on Halsted, was crossing Madison when she was hit by the truck, which was making a right turn.

Park was pronounced dead after being taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital. The driver of the truck was ticketed, police said at the time.