It seems like the issue of car doors and cyclists are a hot topic at the moment in Australia. I saw this article on "Cycling's door zone of death" on the Sydney Morning Heralds Website, as well as this one, "Cars doors dangerous mix for cyclists".
Here is a video featured in the article, keep your eye on the right of the screen, and you will see a cyclist getting "car doored", thats scary enough, but the possibility of being hit by the taxi itself is maybe even worse. Indeed that's what happened to a lady in new Zealand in 2010.
The press is probably all in a response to a new bill presented to the Parliament of Victoria, Road Safety Amendment (Car Doors) Bill 2012. The second article states more than 100 cyclists are "car doored" each year in Melbourne, so I guess its a pretty serious issue there. The purpose of the bill is to "make it an offence to cause a hazard by opening a door of a vehicle", stating "A person must not cause a hazard to any person or vehicle by opening a door of a vehicle, leaving a door of a vehicle open, or getting off, or out of, a vehicle."
If my understanding is correct, it is allready an offence to car door someone, but this bill increases the penalty, putting it on par with driving through a red light, 10 penalty points.
I have never personally been "car doored" but I have been close, and it is something I am very aware of when riding. A large proportion of the roads we ride on in Sydney, and elsewhere, are lined with parked cars. Many cycleways are next to parked cars. So the hazard is ever present.
When riding alongside parked cars I constantly look at the cars for signs that a door may open. I look for brake lights, or parking lights, I look to see if there are people in the car. Then I have a good idea if a door may suddenly swing open. Most importantly though its a good idea to keep a safe distance from parked cars as you never know what will happen.
Once I was on King Georges road and a lady walked out from in front of a parked truck. I think she assumed that she would walk far enough not to be hit bay traffic, but didn't expect a cyclist, and consequently I rode into her. I blame her for the accident. And I guess she does too, as she ran away, so I guess she was not hurt.
Anyway, I dont think increasing the penalty for car dooring someone is going to change the incidence, which is probably the motivation for the Bill. Having adequately wide roads, and less on street parking would probably make more of a difference. If cyclists and drivers are more aware of the dangers the incidence will also be less, so maybe some clever signage for drivers in parking areas would help. And signage for cyclists to remind them to look out for cars doors in high risk areas.
Below is a video put out by the Cycling Promotion Fund, highlighting the dangers and giving their tips on dealing with car doors.