With commuters now getting back on their bikes -- the days of winter and icy roads finally behind us -- cycling advocates are reminding drivers that the simple act of looking out the window can make the difference in saving a life.

Cyclists call it "winning a door prize" or getting "doored" -- but it's not something any cyclist wants to win.

Dooring is when a driver opens their car door without checking their surroundings, slamming it into a passing cyclist who doesn't have time to get out of the way. It's a hazard that can lead to serious injury or even death.

In Montreal, three cyclists were killed last summer, prompting an investigation by the Quebec coroner's officer.

The report found all three deaths happened under preventable circumstances.

One of the cyclists who lost her life was Suzanne Chatelain, who swerved into the path of an oncoming bus as she sought to avoid a car door that opened suddenly.

Her husband of 35 years was left devastated.

"It's just an act of opening a car door, but people should realize it is like a weapon," Osmar Boschetti told CTV Montreal last fall, just after the coroner's report was released.

Perhaps the larger issue is the fact that dooring isn't tracked by authorities. As a result, cycling advocates say it's difficult to determine how widespread the issue is.

In Toronto, for example, Toronto Police Services stopped recording dooring incidents in 2012; they're now lumped in with all cycling collisions. In that year, there were 159 dooring incidents out of a total of 1,177 collisions.

In other major Canadian cities, specific data on dooring is unavailable. But the issue remains important due to increasing numbers of cyclists commuting to work.

In Victoria, 5.8 per cent of commuters cycled to work in 2011 -- the highest percentage in Canada. Cities such as Vancouver, Calgary and Saskatoon also have large numbers of bicycle commuters.

Meanwhile, campaigns seeking to call attention to dooring - and the harm it can cause - have popped up in recent years in other major North American cities, including Chicago and New York.

It's an effort that's now making its way north.

Launched earlier this month in Montreal, the "Une porte, une vie," or "One door, one life," campaign is supported by the Montreal Bike Coalition. It looks to raise awareness about the issue of dooring by encouraging drivers to look in their rearview mirrors before opening  the car door.

And Ontario cyclists might be interested to know that some traffic safety rules may soon be changing. Legislation recently introduced at Ontario's Queen's Park - part of the "Keeping Ontario's Roads Safe Act" -- wants to see the fine for dooring increased to a maximum of $1,000, as well as three demerit points.

Currently, offenders face a fine of about $50 -- which some consider a serious understatement when juxtaposed with the injuries that could be potentially inflicted on a "doored" cyclist.

Tips for sharing the road safely:

Measures can be taken by both cyclists and motorists to avoid the painful act of dooring. Here, Rob Tarantino, of Cycle Toronto, shares his Top 3 prevention tips:

 

  1. For drivers, just "being aware that cyclists are on the road," is a good start, says Tarantino. But "one of the best things a person in a car can do is reach to open the door with the opposite hand."

    We usually open the driver's-side door with our left hand, since it's closest to the handle. But by opening with your right instead, you force your body to naturally twist, causing you to look behind you before you open the door.

    This is a "small behaviour change anyone in the car can use to ensure they're looking in a direction a cyclist might be coming from," Tarantino said.
     
  2. For cyclists, having a bell and lights is crucial to letting others see and hear you. It's also important to stay alert when passing parked cars -- and checking side mirrors for a driver's reflection is a good habit.
     
  3. Dooring aside, Tarantino said that best thing we can do to improve the safety of cyclists is focus in general on creating better infrastructure.

With files from CTV's Montreal Bureau Chief Genevieve Beauchemin