A "suicide door" is the slang term for a car door hinged at its rear rather than the front. Such doors were originally used on horse-drawn carriages, but are rarely found on modern vehicles due primarily to safety concerns.
Popularized in the custom car trade,[dead link] the term is avoided by major automobile manufacturers in favor of alternatives such as "coach doors" (Rolls-Royce), "FlexDoors" (Opel), "freestyle doors" (Mazda), "rear access doors" (Saturn), and "rear-hinged doors".
The danger of the suicide door is the possibility of it opening in transit. A car occupant trying to catch the door by the handle to prevent its opening risks being jettisoned out of the car as the door is thrown open by the oncoming airflow.
Suicide doors were common on cars manufactured in the first half of the 20th century. In the era before seat belts, the accidental opening of such doors meant that there was a greater risk of falling out of the vehicle compared to front-hinged doors, where airflow pushed the doors closed rather than opening them further. Suicide doors were especially popular with mobsters in the gangster era of the 1930s, supposedly due to the ease of pushing passengers out of moving vehicles, according to Dave Brownell, the former editor of Hemmings Motor News.
After World War II, the use of suicide doors was mostly limited to rear doors of four-door sedans. The best-known use of suicide doors on post-World War II automobiles was the Lincoln Continental sedans and convertibles in the 1960s. US President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in a modified 1961 Continental convertible, known as the SS-100-X.
The Toyota Crown introduced in 1955, Fiat 600 Multipla, introduced in 1956, and the SEAT 800, introduced in 1963, were both four-door cars featuring front suicide doors and rear conventional doors, with all four doors connected to the B-pillars.
Due to increasing safety concerns the last mass-produced car model with independently opening suicide doors was the Ford Thunderbird four-door sedan from 1967 to 1971. In recent years rear suicide doors that cannot be opened until the regular front doors are opened have been appearing on a number of vehicles, including extended-cab pickup trucks, the Saturn SC, the Saturn Ion QuadCoupe, the Honda Element, the Toyota FJ Cruiser, the BMW i3 and the Mazda RX-8. In 2003, the new Rolls-Royce Phantom reintroduced independent suicide doors. Other models with classic suicide doors include the Spyker D8 and the Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe four-seat convertible.
Several concept cars have featured suicide doors, such as the Carbon Motors Corporation E7, a police car with rear suicide doors designed to aid officers getting handcuffed passenges in and out of the back seat. The Kia Naimo, an electric concept car, also has rear suicide doors.
Rear-hinged doors make entering and exiting a vehicle easier, allowing a passenger to enter by turning to sit and exit by stepping forward and out. In combination with traditional front doors, they allow chauffeurs and delivery men easier access to the rear door. In Austin FX4 taxis, drivers were able to reach the rear door handle through the driver's window without getting out of the vehicle.
Rear-hinged doors are also better for cycle safety. One of the great threats to bicycle riders is being 'doored': when the door of a parked vehicle is flung open into their path by an unobservant motorist, knocking the bicycle rider into the flow of traffic. When a rear-hinged door is flung open and hit by a bicycle it is more likely to give way and close again and less likely to cause serious injury or death to the bicycle rider.
There are a number of safety hazards, although these also exist for regular doors if cars are moving the other way:
- Being caught at the calves if the car starts moving forward before everyone has gotten in,
- Passengers falling from moving vehicles can be hit by the door,
- When stopped on or near a road, cars passing from behind can hit and slam the door into passengers getting in or out, and
- Aerodynamic factors forcing rear-hinged doors open at speed. In 1969, Consumer Reports reported this problem on a Subaru 360.
Also, a rear-hinged driver's door is problematic for someone trying to catch up and jump in, if an unattended car starts rolling forward.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Automobiles with suicide doors.|
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- Anthony Bird & Francis Hutton-Stott, Lanchester Motorcars, A History, page 96, Cassell, London 1965
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