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Deterrent needed to prevent doorings, say parents of victim

The Age, 23 May 2012

The parents of a young cyclist killed when an opened car door forced him into traffic fear that more lives will be lost unless measures encouraging motorists to look for riders or face tougher penalties become law.

Michael Cross and Nicky Martin, whose son James became Victoria's first recorded 'dooring' fatality, will tonight argue that drivers who create a hazard for cyclists be punished through heavier fines and the loss of three demerit points.

James Cross, 22, died on St Patrick's Day 2010 when he crashed into an open car door in Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn, and fell under a passing truck. The car driver was never charged or fined.

Mr Cross's parents, both doctors, say greater deterrents should be adopted to remind drivers of the potential for tragedy caused by opening doors without looking.

“The last photograph I have of my son is this misshapen, squashed figure under a white blanket on the road. That's the last photograph of him and I don't want it to be someone else's kid,” Dr Martin said yesterday.

After hearing tonight's submissions, a parliamentary committee must decide whether to support a legal change proposed by Greens MP Greg Barber, who wants the maximum fine imposed on drivers who injure or endanger cyclists to be raised to $1220 and for them to lose three demerit points. Under current law drivers can be fined $122 – less than if a cyclist is caught not wearing a helmet – while a court can impose a maximum fine of $366.

James Cross's parents are dismayed that the car driver responsible for their son's death was never formally interviewed by police and never apologised.

They acknowledge the woman's actions were not intentional, but believe educating drivers and deterring them against acting irresponsibly is the best way of tackling the wider problem.

There were more than 1100 reported instances of 'dooring' across Victoria between 2000 and 2010, while figures for last year are being collated.

“We know education is important and people's attitudes and behaviour must change, but there also has to be a penalty," Dr Cross said.

"The penalty has to be significant if it's an action that may have a serious outcome.

“If you do the wrong thing there's a high chance you'll be collared and there is a penalty and the penalty is significant. The penalty should be commensurate with the danger and at the moment it's not.”

Dr Cross said had he and his wife not pushed for a coronial inquest, their son's death would have been recorded that he crashed into traffic after he “came from nowhere”.

But they remain disappointed a key witness was never summonsed, that Boroondara Council was never called to explain its traffic management on Glenferrie Road, and that the state government has cut the number of projects to improve cycling infrastructure despite increasing cyclist numbers.

“If we are able to do something to improve things then his life isn't wasted,” Dr Martin said.

Victoria Police and VicRoads supported increasing dooring fines in submissions made earlier this month, but VicRoads opposed docking motorists demerit points because of potential confusion if passengers opened doors on cyclists.

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