Why I support “Bikes safe at stop signs”

See Stop sign compliance for links to the present laws, and Bicycle stop sign changes proposed for the pending legislation.

There are a couple of serious objections to allowing bicyclists to legally roll through stop signs that should be considered:

1) Same Roads – Same Rights – Same Rules (SRSRSR). I find this argument specious at best and disastrous at worst. SRSRSR may be useful as a teaching aid, slogan, or PR position but simply does not, and can not, work as a legal position. In Bicycles are not motor vehicles and why it matters I explain why as a practical matter cyclists would be banned outright from most roads were we to actually be subjected to the same rules. There are a myriad of other, lesser, examples; pacelineing would be illegal, bikes would be required to have lights (24×7, not just at night), horns, and so forth, cyclists would have to be licensed, and thus children wouldn’t be allowed to ride bicycles (16″ or more wheelsize), bikes would require insurance and registration stickers (BLT, bicycle license tax, anyone?), there would be no riding on sidewalks statewide, nor would parking be allowed on sidewalks (I guess I would definitely have to get a kickstand).  §28-735, the “3-foot passing law” would have to be repealed.

Beyond the issue at hand, as a matter of consistency, advocacy of any sort of bicycle lane would have to be disavowed — “Same Roads”, remember?

2) Safety; my own feeling is simply that the cyclist’s self-preservation instinct is stronger than any law, and as such changing the law won’t cause any (additional) problems.

Beyond just feeling, my review of traffic engineering literature indicates that the problem at stop signs isn’t one of strict compliance, but rather one of driver-error, see Stop sign compliance for references.

Also, we have an actual example in the state of Idaho. In reply to queries about the law’s impact on safety Mark McNeese said “No impact; nothing changed; current behavior was just legalized”. His full comments are below. Boise and its metro area have populations of around 200,000 and 600,000 respectively. By comparison, Tucson is about 500,000 / 1,000,000, and Phoenix is even larger. Still, it’s hard to claim that Idaho’s almost 3 decades of real-world experience is irrelevant.

Finally, in an argument *for* the proposal is the “folk crime” aspect of the slow-roll. The term folk crime comes from the field of sociology, see e.g. Feest 1968 in the references here. I am generally against absolute (e.g. stop means stop!) laws that are rarely enforced, which is clearly the case with the present stop sign situation. I feel they devalue the law in general. Such rules are also ripe for selective enforcement.

As might be expected, this proposal is quite controversial, see e.g. the discussion over at tucsonbikelawyer.com, here, here, and here.

Below is Mark McNeese’s take on Idaho’s law, which was enacted in 1982. He is their state’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator (my emphasis added):

…In retrospect the stop-sign law is not a bad law. It certainly makes riding a bike more enjoyable. Overcoming inertia takes a lot of energy from a cyclist. However, there are two issues that need to be addressed. One is how the motor vehicle driver perceives the cyclist who in his uneducated view is breaking the law when the cyclist rolls through a stop sign or makes a rolling right on red, and two, the safety issue for younger cyclists who view this behavior of more experienced cyclists.

In addressing the motor vehicle operator reaction one can easily observe that the vast majority of motor vehicle operators do not come to a complete stop at stop signs (ed note: see Stop sign compliance for more on this issue) or when turning right on red unless traffic conditions dictate that they do-regardless of what the “law” states. The bicyclist rolls through a little faster however, when conditions and sight distance permit, and some people may view this as a blatant disregard for safety. I can assure you that cyclists understand very well the repercussions of motor-vehicle/bicycle collisions and are not “blatantly” inviting disaster by disregarding common-sense safety checks at these well-marked intersections.

Young or inexperienced bicycle riders often ride on sidewalks and obey pedestrian crossing rules. Safety educators in Idaho teach all riders to STOP at stop signs to maximize SAFETY. The “law” isn’t emphasized in any safety presentations. If you teach children safety based on obedience to the law eventually the decision will be “do I want to obey the law?” and if the answer is no then the resulting disobedience may put that person or others at risk. Emphasizing safety instills a “cause and effect” perspective that is harder to ignore.

The red-light stop-and-go law has not been in effect long enough to give intelligent comment on other than for many cyclists nothing has changed. Right or wrong, this was the way they rode. Many traffic sensitive devices at lights do not pick up cyclists. The cost for installing special devices in a time of shrinking transportation dollars is a constant struggle. I guess this state has found a way to bypass that and time will tell if the decision was the right one.

In closing, I believe there is no substitute for a well-organized and ongoing bicycle and pedestrian safety-education campaign at the local level. The development of safe facilities is just as important. The organization, development, and implementation, whether education or facility related, must be a collaborative effort of law enforcement, educators, citizens, and local government officials who are concerned about the issues of bicycle and pedestrian safety.

I would be glad to continue this discussion or answer any other questions you may have.

Mark McNeese
Idaho Transportation Department
Sr. Transportation Planner
State Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator 208-334-8272


Prima Facia

This was added much later, but the issue was always present, since its initial introduction in 2009. The bill as written automatically places bicyclists in a weaker legal position if they become involved in a collision with a motorist who also has a stop. This should be addressed an corrected so that bicyclists aren’t assumed to be liable in such a situation (liability should be assigned according to what actions the bicyclist and driver took, not just that a bicycle is a bicycle). I’m not sure if the Idaho approach, see 49-720, fixes this or not. I would think it does. They made a separate statute in the bicycling chapter; it doesn’t piggy-back on the yield-sign law.

There’s also some confusion at 4-way (all-way) stops.

6 thoughts on “Why I support “Bikes safe at stop signs””

  1. Here is how Idaho implemented their stop as yield for bicyclists law.
    It was added as a separate section into their chapter on bicycles. it is 49-720

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