Far vs Near Hand – Safety Compared

Safety Advantage Considered - Overview

As a public safety intervention, any claim that the Reach method is safer than its near-hand alternative rests largely, if not entirely, on practical thinking: That one is more likely to avoid injury to self, others, or door damage, if one sees - or hears - rapid on-coming traffic before irrevocable action.

For as of this writing it appears that no research has ever been ‎conducted or published in the Netherlands nor elsewhere to evaluate the intrinsic or public safety value of the far hand reach method. Absent simulation or epidemiological studies, decades ago Dutch 'commonsense' deemed the Reach the safer, more sensible alternative. They went on to adopt it widely by social consensus and peer encouragement. If there was disagreement or debate on this choice, the record is currently blank.

Whether future studies might one day challenge the Dutch endorsement remains to be seen. Meanwhile, that approval is but an 'argument by authority.'  Yet that authority cannot be ignored given what Holland has accomplished over the past half century in road sharing safety.  So their endorsement is for many quite persuasive, more so when taken together with the Reach's obvious and practical line-of-sight advantage.  

In the absence of research, one may conduct a 'thought experiment.'[24] That is, to assess merit by means of an analytic comparison and evaluation of each method as considered in thought and observed in practice.  By systematic examination of exiting methods against criteria for safety one may compare and contrast their likely safety value and provide a reasonable basis to judge their respective merits and short-comings. Such an exercise will not settle the question but may clarify issues and provide a reasonable basis for opinion. Such an examination follows in Part II.

Safety Advantage Considered - Framework

Question: Which is the safer method: The 'near-hand push' or the 'far-hand reach':method?
Presented here -- with an attempt or pretense of objectivity -- is an analytical comparison, a thought experiment, intended to help discern the relative safety value of the alternatively 'handed' methods. This study will proceed as follows:

I. A general standard to interrogate each method for safety value is given.
II. An Inventory of Evaluative Criteria is presented: The general standard is here subdivided into a set of eleven specific, functional criteria for safety value.
III. Criteria Are Applied: The alternative methods will be examined for safety value under each specific criteria.

I: A General Safety Standard for Safe Exiting:[edit]

How well does the method allow, promote and/or assure seeing oncoming traffic, a) in space, b) over time, c) and under substandard states of operator, equipment or environment? And as observed in practice, how well is it precautionary, protective, and fail-safe for each party?

II. Inventory of Evaluation Criteria - Listed[edit]
An optimal safe exiting method - specifically and functionally - would:

1) Provide, and optimally necessitate, maximal awareness [by exiting driver/passenger] in space and time of on-coming traffic.

2) Prevent or minimize pre-mature, risky or irrevocable and dangerous actions.

3) Be simple, easy, and natural to perform.

4) Be simple and easy to teach, learn and habituate.

5) Be effective and appropriate for adults and children, drivers and passengers.

6) Be free of intrinsic physical strain or injury to users when performed.

7) Be a reliably autonomous action resilient to parts defects, absence, and limitations.

8) Habitually ensure safety when under stress, inattentive or otherwise compromised.

9) Be a necessary result of a necessary action.

10) Be protective under adverse environmental conditions: light, weather, roadway, traffic, and vehicle location.

11) Other safety considerations - emergency exit, etc.

III. An Inventory of Evaluation Criteria - Applied

An optimal safe exiting method specifically and functionally would:

1) Provide, and optimally necessitate, maximal awareness [by exiting driver/passenger] in space and time of on-coming traffic.

Direct View

The far hand reach m44ethod naturally forces a quarter turn swivel of shoulders and head outward, allowing natural view of outside rear view mirror, then and out to the side, and then permits easy further rotation of shoulders and head to look directly back toward on-coming traffic. View is not overly confined to or dependent on mirror, and a near 180° survey of the road front to back may be achieved. Use of the rear view outside mirror is not obligatory but one's gaze would pass to it during the swivel motion, and may be consulted. With far hand on opening door, one exits facing side-wise or directly back, maintaining continuous view of on-coming traffic as one chooses to open the door, only opening more fully and stepping out when safe to do so, or to pull back in and retreat if not.

The near hand push method does not require nor encourage a shoulder or head turn, though it may be voluntarily performed or habitual for many drivers and passengers. With near hand fixed on handle or door rest, near upper arm and shoulder are fixed as well, impeding and discouraging shoulder and head rotation beyond ~ 90° - 120° out sideways and partially back. Direct gaze backward is strained if not impossible, and unlikely to be performed by most.

Mirror View

To help assure safety, drivers and front seat passengers may, and should, use respective outside rear view mirrors (wing mirror) to look back for on-coming traffic. But in real world behavior, such use is not obligatory, physically necessitated, nor reliably performed, though it is voluntary or habitual for many.

Important as it may be in the initial phase preparatory to door opening, mirror use and dependence upon it for seeing back entails some potential and some unavoidable short-comings. Such limitations are a function of a mirror's optical qualities (eg. planar, convex, aspheric), positioning whether on the car body or door frame itself (in which case it moves with door opening), user sight-line, behavior and time of use. These factors affect the mirrored field of vision, and the time such visual information is valid and observable. It applies to both the near and far hand methods, although as has been noted, the far hand method allows and encourages direct sight to take over if the mirror view is neglected or by necessity lost as exiting proceeds. The near hand method, if the mirror is even used, does not afford such easily achieved direct vision back to guard against on-coming danger. In the case of the far hand method, one is less disadvantaged if one neglects to the check the outside mirror as a direct view back is easily available before door opening proceeds.

Mirror features, placement, adjustment, and qualities vary considerably. High end side rear-view mirrors may provide split mirrors and fish-eye curvature to overcome blind sectors, with and without distorting perceived distances. Mirrors may not be properly adjusted by the driver, and even when done, the passenger side mirror will serve the driver, but less so the front passenger who might wish to use it to aid exiting. User line-of-sight is most variable as shift in head/eye angle to mirror immediately shifts the view reflected, whether to greater advantage or loss which make the mirrored view useless. Time limitation is unavoidable.

Useful mirrored view is lost once one rises, turns head or swivels to assume another position in the looking, opening and exiting sequence. Unless the user can quickly replace the mirrored view with direct sight, the operator is acting on expired information. This may even prompt one to hasten one's door opening and exit, to step out quickly before the scene back changes or a distantly perceived cyclist or vehicle arrives.

Other mirror issues may seriously affect safety in exiting:

Rear seated passengers are not provided with rear-view side mirrors, and must make do entirely without their temporary benefit. Front side mirrors may be defective, improperly positioned, or variously compromised for viewing by darkness, approaching headlights, grime, rain, snow, ice, as well as inherent blind spots.

2) Prevent or minimize pre-mature, risky or irrevocable and dangerous actions

As noted above in 1), the reach method favors a direct and continuous view of on-coming traffic, allowing a more fully-informed judgment compared to the near hand method. Hence pre-mature and risky action to open the door, open it quickly, or throw it fully open unaware of immediate risks in space and time, is more liable to occur, particularly with less conscientious agents. Habituated reach users need not be so consciously conscientious, as their reach automatically positions them to see on-coming vehicle risk regardless. One is then more capable of stopping or aborting dangerous actions.

In addition, as yet not remarked, the act of physically reaching across with one's far hand and arm significantly reduces the force and speed with which one might push open the door into traffic. One's hand and arm cannot effectively extend or push as hard as a near hand and arm often can, and does. Hence, should one prematurely start to open the door, it will likely only open partially and slowly. This will give on-coming cyclists and vehicles early warning before full opening and thus time to react more safely. Partial opening also allows greater room for safe passage, reducing the risk that cyclists need swerve at all. Or if a swerve is provoked, the cyclist may swerve to a lesser extent. His/her risk may then also be reduced for being struck directly by a vehicle traveling adjacent, or for losing control and crashing to pavement, be injured, or again, struck by on-coming traffic.

The above advantages are not inherent for near hand users. A near hand user as already described, lacks an assured continuous view of on-coming traffic, and what view he/she has is inherently compromised over time and line of sight. The near hand user is can more easily and will on occasion fling a car door fully open preparatory to exiting, with no necessity to view, with no capacity to retrieve a widely and blindly flung door. Whereas partial, slower opening is a consequence and virtue of the reach, this inherent (and unintended) protective advantage is lacking for near hand users.

3) Be simple, easy, natural to perform.

Both the near and reach methods are simple, easy, and natural, and can become habitual to perform. That the international consensus appears to favor the near hand may signify that by these measures it is physically and energetically advantageous. Add to this explanation the obviousness of using a near hand to perform a near action, with force and speed, the case would seem made, but for safety. Yet the Dutch have found the reach too can be popular and also habitual.

4) Be simple and easy to teach, learn and habituate.

The use of a near hand for near action is itself simple, easy and not at all in need of teaching or training learning. Though here again, the Dutch in practice achieve transmission of the practice with, it is claimed, minimal effort or fuss though inter-generational transmission from toddler-hood on, by monkey-see, monkey-do. Late adopters do indeed need to retrain, substituting one habit for another. How well older dogs can learn new monkey tricks remains to be tested on a wide scale. But the teaching and learning is less the problem than embedding it as a compulsive habit in new practitioners. Progression to general habitual use would likely proceed most easily starting with the young.

5) Be effective and appropriate for adults and children, drivers and passengers.

Both methods can be performed from all positions by all able age groups. Body size, build and bulk, strength and flexibility may affect competence and qualities of performance. The physically compromised may find the reach more difficult than the near hand method.
Significantly, however, the absence of a rear view side mirror presents a safety disadvantage for rear-seated passengers who rely on the near hand method. For as in the front, their fixed near hand, arm and shoulder hems them in and blocks a fuller turn to look out and back. Lacking the a mirror, too troublesome or difficult to contort and try to see, they may open the door without full sight or awareness of on-coming traffic.

Use of the far hand reach mitigates these problems. It affords the same advantages from the back seat as from the front seat, minus the optional glance in the mirror. For with the reach, the mirror provides a initial but minor assist, given the swivel and direct sight line back which the reach facilitates.

6) Be free of intrinsic physical strain or injury to users when performed.

Using the near hand and arm to open and exit creates specific physical impediments to safety: A near arm and hand fixed on the door blocks the outer shoulder from rotating, making it awkward if not impractical to turn one's head further back to gain a full view of on-coming traffic. As noted previously, the far hand reach naturally causes the outer, near door shoulder to rotate back, allowing and encouraging the head to turn further to provide such a direct view of on-coming cyclists and other traffic.

Neither method would appear to be injurious for a normally fit and sized person. But individuals with arthritis or stiffness, excessive body bulk or size, or lack of flexibility, short arm length or strength may find the reach maneuver challenging, impractical or impossible. The near hand method would not present similar difficulties. On the other hand, the different method may prove easier or more physically favorable depending on underlying personal conditions. For example, some with back problems may find one method reduces or increases strain to vulnerable joints or weakened limbs.

7) Be a reliably autonomous action resilient to parts defects, absence, and limitations.

Both the near and far hand methods are regularly performed by myriad drivers and passengers multiple times each day. And to the extent they do not depend on others or external aids they are autonomous. Supplementary equipment such as side rear-view mirrors, bicycle detection sensors (e.g. radar)[25] [26]to alert drivers, 'door opening!' outside lights which flash when seat belts are unbuckled[27], or lights exposed in the opening edge of the door itself better to warn approaching cyclists and vehicles, etc. when present and functioning correctly can and do increase safety when exiting. But at the same time they decrease autonomous reliability by the person exiting. The cabin signal must be on and heeded, external lights depend on being seen and understood by others. Likewise as discussed above, in the case of mirror reliance, all things being equal the far hand method is inherently more reliably autonomous when compared to the near hand method which relies more on a functioning aligned mirror being present to improve safety.

8) Habitually ensure safety when under stress, inattentive or otherwise compromised.

Occupational safety professionals recognize that "People are as likely to fall back on a positive habit as a negative one. In a safety context, improving workers’ behavioral baseline will make them safer when they are most at risk."[28] Beyond engineering safe vehicles, infrastructure and traffic regulations, a major key to safe driving is to adopt safer habits.[29]

Both the near and far hand methods are usually routine, habituated actions, long performed and frequently repeated to the point of automatic action. They are available and enacted often free of conscious decision, variation or modification. Such a habit can be good or bad depending on its inherent safety and immediate context. But a poor habit may always provide a poor baseline for behavior, while a good habit will likely be beneficial and fail-safe. When a person is mentally or emotionally compromised --tired, stressed, inattentive, under the influence, emotionally charged or otherwise heedless or impulsive -- poorer performance of any activity can be expected, at times with serious consequences. Safer baseline habits defend against such lapses. Reliable and fail-safe habit is to be preferred over poorer habits. As the far hand habit allows a reliable and real time view of on-coming traffic, and inhibits wide and fast door opening, it provides a better baseline and fail-safe habit than a near hand habit.

9) Be a necessary result of a necessary action.

Experts recommend that where possible, behaviors be structured or designed to guide or compel agents to perform procedures the safest way.[30] Safety is to be engineered into the activity. A linked chain of preferred motions should be initiated which eliminate hazardous links downstream.[31]A preferred safe method should be as unavoidable as possible, and as such safety is necessarily aspect or result of the required activity. The a chained sequence, along with habit, channels safer behavior. The more ways an action can deviate from the intended sequence, the less fail-safe it is.

In this regard, the far hand habit limits initial door opening even when passion or impulse rule, and positions the person to turn facing the on-coming traffic as they prepare to and do step out. The near hand habit allows the near hand and arm to more readily push and throw open the door earlier, wider and faster should the person allow impulse to overwhelm judgment. While both habits may fail to consult the mirror, the lack is less critical for the far hand user who easily gains a direct line of sight.

10) Be protective under adverse environmental conditions: light, weather, roadway, traffic, and vehicle location.

Adverse contexts due to natural environment, road way and traffic conditions may also affect the estimated safety value of each method. The Mirror View in section 1) above includes discussion of weather impacts on its use.

Strong wind is another concern. Wind can catch a partial or fully-opened door and make it difficult to control or retract. A far-hand reach results in a more cautious, partial initial door opening, which can prevent a the door from catching too much wind, and signal the need to maintain tighter control of the door. The near hand method permits, and its more prone to faster and wider initial or even completely flung opening. As such it would be more likely to catch the wind and be soon fully and forcefully extended. Wind from the front poses an opposite situation. Then the occupant may require considerable force for opening against wind pressure and their near hand and arm might then be preferred or required. But this need would not likely put safety at issue as the door would not be driven by the wind to swing open involuntarily.

Road and traffic conditions, such as exiting on a blind curve or amid heavy traffic would appear to favor great caution. The mirror view may not register a vehicle turning into a road or around a curve. It may be that the best method would favor a wide-angle direct view, through all available windows, followed by cautious partial opening and partial exit with as wide a rear view as practical. Again, the far hand method favors the direct view back from inside and out. Mirrors and rear-view mirrors are available for both techniques, but time delays after use again reduces their value when needed most.

It should not be forgotten that whenever possible passengers should exit to the curb, sidewalk, or side of road. But even there, cyclists, skate-boarders, joggers as well as blind, smart-phone blinded or otherwise inattentive pedestrians present risk of collision and injury. But greater danger is still to be had for and by passengers exiting into traffic.

Doorings from the passenger side into the bike lane, or The Uber/Lyft Effect[32], is increasingly a concern in cities across the globe. The risk is greater than that usually posed by identifiably marked and professionally operated taxis. For ride-shares are unmarked, loosely unregulated if at all, with non-professional drivers who let or cannot prevent pre-paid customers from jumping out in mid-stream when traffic is paused.[33] It highlights the need for passengers as well as drivers to exercise much greater caution when exiting.[34]

Such passengers open doors directly into the bike lane, corridor or door zone, and put cyclists and themselves at particular risk. Cyclists wary of dooring from parked cars ride at the outer margin of the door zone or at the side of the traffic lane to keep a protective distance. They scan for dooring risk from the parked side. Cyclists have both physical and attentional difficulty attending simultaneously to the opposite, traffic lane side as well as to the parked side. And they always must attempt vigilant attention to navigating the road, for signals and signage, road bed defects, pedestrians, other cyclists, traffic flow, entering and turning vehicles etc. As back seat passengers lack rear-view mirrors to consult, and in many cases the configuration of the rear seat and frame opening, present unique constraints for exiting, all exits from such location is ill-considered. But dropping off in the midst of traffic, impatient and disregardful of the risks posed to begin with, such individuals are also most likely to try and be quick about it -- as they are blocking traffic -- and open the door more suddenly and widely to get out and away.

Again here for reasons already detailed above, the near hand method with its lack of a mirror for back seat passengers as well, appears the less protective than the Dutch Reach. For the near hand allows faster, wider opening and interferes with achieving a full direct view back at on-coming cyclists before full opening and when stepping out.

11) Other safety considerations - emergency exit, etc.

Apart from safety value to prevent collisions when exiting, other risks require additional criteria for consideration.

Rapid and safer exit from a vehicle under emergency conditions may, depending on context, suggest different choices. If rapidity is valued above all else , the near hand method which permits fast, forceful and wide opening could prove advantageous. If not the sole consideration, then risk of on-coming traffic would conflict with the risk of remaining inside slightly longer while at risk of fire, explosion, sinking, secondary collisions, car-jacking,  or abduction, etc.. It may be argued that it is under such stress that baseline safe habits are a most valuable safety check. In the case of sinking, greater force would need be exerted to open a door, perhaps favoring the near hand and arm, or which ever was felt the stronger or better positioned.