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The Idaho Stop: Coming Soon?

I like Idaho's stop and yield law. I want to see it in other states. But to sell the motoring public on the idea, we must make sure they understand the benefit to them – that cyclists can safely clear an intersection or stop sign more quickly and keep all traffic moving.

The “Idaho stop” is not new but it’s in the news again and generating a fresh round of controversy.  What is the Idaho stop and yield? Under a law passed in 1982, Idaho bicyclists can treat a stop sign as a yield sign and a red light as a stop sign, assuming it’s safe to do so.

Currently, only Idaho and a few counties in Colorado permit a rolling stop. On the international front, Paris approved a similar law this summer.

Now, the New York Times reports that San Francisco is considering a similar ordinance. If the ordinance passes, cyclists in that city would be allowed to treat stop signs as yields. They’d still have to stop and wait at red lights.

The proposed ordinance could be voted on in December by San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors. The city’s mayor has said he will veto it because he believes it’s unsafe. If the supervisors prevail over a veto, “San Francisco will become the largest city in the United States to pass a stop-as-yield law,” states the NYT article.

Support for Idaho Rolling Stop & Yield

The Idaho stop and yield has support among many experienced bicycle advocates. In May, our very own Bike Law attorney Bob Mionske wrote a Velonews column in favor of Idaho’s law. He notes that a rolling stop is a practical reality for many cyclists:

As a roadie, you probably already perform the Idaho stop, whether or not you have ever heard of it. It is a common sense behavior at stop signs; otherwise, strictly adhering to the law would cause cyclists to lose all momentum, and sometimes balance, and then start up from zero at every stop sign — even stop signs placed only to calm motorized traffic through slow neighborhoods.

Is the rolling stop a safety issue? Mionske has talked to experts in Idaho who says it’s not.

Kurt Holzer, an attorney who specializes in bike law cases in Idaho, reports that in more than 20 years of representing cyclists in injury collisions with motor vehicles he has “never seen” the state’s “stop as yield” law cause a collision.

The rolling stop may be a practical reality for cyclists, but efforts to get it passed in other states may run into political headwinds. According to Mionske:

Some say it is the wrong focus of advocacy efforts because the slew of emotional counter-arguments is just too irresistible, and it will cause a loss of political clout.

Mionske disagrees with that position and states, “[a] sensible change to laws that allows for better and safer riding should not have to wait for the public consensus.”

Stop & Yield In Your State?

I’m with the majority of cyclists who believe it would be fantastic if traffic laws matched up with our “best practices.” I’m ready to legally roll through a stop sign with the best of them.

So let’s push for the Idaho law in our states.  We have statistics from Idaho and Colorado that show a rolling stop is safe. To sell the motoring public on the idea, let’s make sure they understand the benefit to them – that cyclists can clear an intersection or stop sign more quickly and keep all traffic moving.  Once we sell other drivers on that benefit,  all interested parties – cyclists and motorists – will see rolling stop and yields as a win.

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