The 'Dutch reach': EU drivers will have to use right hand to open car door

The 'Dutch reach': EU drivers will have to use right hand to open car door
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Getting out of a vehicle using the so-called "Dutch Reach" will soon become a standard part of driving tests across Europe to prevent accidents with car doors swinging open.

A series of new rules to make roads safer, including a lower alcohol limit for novice drivers, was approved by the European Parliament this week. One measure stands out: examiners will soon have to check if the candidate opens the door correctly.

The "Dutch Reach" requires drivers to always use the hand on the other side to the door when getting out of the vehicle. The movement turns them around so that they almost automatically look over their shoulder.

As the name suggests, the move has been embedded in Dutch driving protocol for decades, owing to the country's widespread use of bicycles, which must share roads with cars.

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As traffic in most places in Europe is on the right side of the road, drivers are seated on the left meaning that opening the door with the right hand is a Dutch Reach. In the small number of EU Member States that drive on the left – only Ireland, Malta and Cyprus – drivers will now have to open their car doors with their left hand.

Belgium typically has around 300 accidents each year in which cyclists collide with a car door swinging open. But these figures are actually "a serious underestimate" as the police do not always go to the scene, Het Nieuwsblad reports.

Earlier this month, the Brussels Parliament also passed a resolution calling to include the Dutch Reach in Brussels' driver training.

Creatures of habit

Making this part of driving tests across the EU is a good idea, says Vera Hoorens, professor of social psychology at KU Leuven. "People are creatures of habit. If you are taught the right move at the start it becomes automatic and you won't do it differently any time soon," she explained on Flemish radio.

But the fact that people are creatures of habit could also be a problem for many experienced drivers. "Many drivers still use their left hand to open the door. It will be very difficult to change that habit in the short term."

The main challenge will be to convince experienced drivers of the importance of the measure. "Many have never had an accident with a pedestrian or cyclist. If you start telling them to open their door differently, they often won't see the point."

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"People are quick to think they are good and safe drivers. They often underestimate how a small moment of inattention can have big consequences," Hoorens said. "The trick will be to convince even those people to modify their behaviour."

It is now up to the Member States to consider the new rules. After that, the dossier will go to the new European Parliament, which will take office after the 9 June elections.

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