Imagine what it would be like to reverse the way you open your car. Instead of opening the rear passenger car door towards the front bumper of the car, you open it towards the rear bumper. This design, technically referred to as “rear hinged doors”, was surprisingly popular in the early 20th century before being known for its controversy in modern cars today.
It had nothing to do with suicide, so what makes them controversial?
While most brands don’t utilize them as a part of their design anymore, some luxury cars do make a limited amount of novelty cars with them as of 2022. Manufacturing cars this way is perfectly legal–only aftermarket mods are regulated in some countries.
As the driver and/or passengers can fall out of the car when trying to close the door at high speeds, why haven’t they been made officially illegal?
Rear hinged doors actually started with the horse drawn carriage and transferred over to cars in the early 1900s. Most early cars, including the Citroën Traction Avant, were manufactured with the style. They were especially appealing for women who wore long skirts to enter and exit their cars. Vans like the Lloyd LT600 featured the style on the front driver and passenger seats.
American gangsters is really where the bad reputation started. In the 1930s, these styled cars had their own place in the gang community for obvious reasons.
The doors do not inspire or incite suicide, despite what the name suggests. In fact, the 1930s American gangster likely inspired the morbid nickname and reputation. Dave Brownell, former editor of Hemmings Motor News, was the first to refer to them as suicide doors that “[made] pushing someone out of them a piece of cake.” Perfect to the stereotypical American gangster.
That’s really where it started. Concerns continued to grow when engines gained even more horsepower in the 1950s. Especially at the time, the locking mechanisms were sensitive to any pressure, meaning they could open easily when someone leaned against them. The doors were already prone to opening when passengers leaned against them. So when engines had more horsepower, more speed meant an even greater risk of falling out of the car should someone try to close them in motion.
Safety did improve as the locking mechanisms were further developed over the 1960s and 1970s but the design didn’t remain popular. Perhaps in part due to the casualization of American dress attire and the growing interest in larger sized vehicles like the minivan and sedan. The style faded, at one point becoming near extinct, until the late 90s and early 00s. Now they are featured on certain makes, more recently luxury cars. In fact, as of 2022 Rolls-Royce has introduced life saving features to them, which include sensing and monitoring the traffic and nearby dangers before allowing the passenger to open the door.
Obviously, “suicide doors” sound far from flattering when selling a car, even if the reputation has become synonymous with the design. That’s why most car makers have tried to separate the reputation with their own terminology.
Below are a few models that have been built with rear hinged doors as of the late 20th century. Some of these models lack a B-pillar entirely.
Rear-access door (RAD)
Other makes that feature rear hinged style
Although the style never regained full popularity outside of the ultraluxury car realm, the technology for the style has greatly improved. Most modern cars with these doors can’t be opened when in motion past certain speeds. That has made them a lot safer and greatly reduced the likelihood of accidents.
As suicide cleaners with over 20 years experience, we can provide assurance that the last notable death as a result of the design occurred in the 1950s. The suicidal car situations that really involve biohazard cars are a result of a shooting, carbon monoxide, or an intentional suicidal collision.
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