Dutch Reach

CESAM researcher Dr Ilona Suojanen looks at topics through a happiness lens, which makes her a happyologist. Here she blogs about a brilliant way to increase the safety of people on the streets in the Netherlands and elaborates the many benefits of the ‘Dutch Reach’.

As a Finn living in the Netherlands I am always excited when the Netherlands is mentioned in Finnish media, and vice versa. Finnish people recently had a chance to learn a safety lesson from Dutch citizens.

Avoiding accidents

An article was published about Dutch Reach, the custom of opening the car door using the far hand after you have parked your car on the side of the street. This means that if you get out of the car on the left side, you reach for the handle with your right hand. This Dutch Reach forces your upper body to turn sideways. You are then more likely to spot an approaching cyclist before opening the door. This can avoid serious accidents happening when the door is opened straight in front of a speedy cyclist.

Co-creating safety

This made me think how enhancing safety of people in public spaces does not only require zebra crossings, traffic lights, gates, barriers and safety equipment of all sorts. Nor is surveillance necessarily the best way to increase safety. Safety comes from our behaviour. By our own actions we can create a safer environment for others too. By automatizing certain actions, such as this Dutch Reach, we do not only free our brain to work on other aspects of safety on busy streets, but we also co-create safety with others.

Common sense

I also found the Dutch Reach a great example of shared safety responsibility. Naturally it is the responsibility of the one coming out of the car to see if it is safe to open the door, but cyclists must stay alert too. According to the article Dutch Reach is taught to Dutch children from a very young age by both their parents and teachers for over 50 years now, and it is also a requirement to pass the driving test. When safety manners and habits are taught at schools, the government also takes a share of the responsibility when educating the citizens for safer practices. And in this case, this manner is not just a taught practice, but common sense.

Finnish Road Safety Council hence encourages Dutch Reach as a safe way to open the door when leaving the vehicle. Thank you Dutch wisdom! Thank you for teaching the Reach! Maybe next time there is an article where Finnish people teach Dutch how and why to wear helmets when cycling. More likely though – as usual – it will be the Swedish people doing their brilliant marketing on their latest innovation: hovding, the cycling collar.

Photo: Ladies' saddle by Ilona Suojanen


If you enjoyed reading this, try another one in our series of blog posts about aspects of safety from the Centre of Excellence in Public Safety Management (CESAM) at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM). It is intended to act as an introduction to the Centre’s work; to promote and foster the professional development and management of public safety organisations, and to give CESAM members a platform to share their observations and experiences as academics and citizens.

CESAM blog