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A bicycling advocacy organization is reportedly backing another legislative attempt to adopt the Idaho Stop for bicyclists entering intersections in California. The bill would allow bicyclists to treat a stop sign as a yield sign.
First introduced in 2017 but not passed, AB-122 was reintroduced in December 2020 by Assembly Member Tasha Boerner Horvath. Named after the first state to pass such legislation in 1982, the Idaho Stop allows bicyclists to roll through clear intersections at a reasonable speed that would allow them to stop if encountering a motor vehicle. The goals of the Idaho stop are to free up court time and energy from being tangled up in minor traffic violations and to focus on yielding right-of-way rather than stopping and starting based on lights. This way, cyclists don’t have to stop in place by a stop light when there’s no traffic to worry about anyway, and the courts don’t have to deal with piles of tickets from such a minor offense by cyclists.
As expected, the law is somewhat controversial. On one hand, cyclists and advocates say that by doing so, they are helping to move traffic along faster. Drivers and opposers of the Idaho Stop see this as giving cyclists special and unfair privileges. After all, in California, it’s assumed that bikes are treated as vehicles — or at least riders are expected to uphold the same rights and duties as drivers despite not having the same physical protections on the road.
Advocates of the law, like the California Bicycle Coalition, say intersections pose the most dangers to bicyclists because of inattentive drivers. Rolling through clear intersections, though, gets bicyclists through quicker while helping them maintain momentum and control.
As StreetsBlog Cal noted in 2018 when the bill was last introduced: “Allowing a bicycle to yield at a stop sign brings many benefits to all road users: it can help a bicyclist maintain momentum, keep better control of the bicycle, and move through an intersection more quickly and efficiently, avoiding unnecessary collisions.”
On the opposite side of the topic, as noted on the same StreetsBlog Cal article, those against the Idaho Stop only see a potential for chaos, and they blame people who are not in cars. When the California Teamsters objected in 2018, they said that “this bill would insert unpredictability into the traffic safety equation, and our members, driving 80,000 pound vehicles, would be left to wonder whether any approaching bicyclist is going to stop or dart out into the intersection.”
Similar laws have also been enacted in Washington, Delaware, Arkansas, and Oregon. In 2017, Delaware adopted a limited version of this law, and Colorado took on pieces of it as well in 2018.
Though not enough research has been done on whether observing the Idaho stop makes roads safer, anecdotally, it appears that it generally does make roads safer if observed properly. The idea is that it allows for freer flow of traffic — especially given that bicyclists don’t prompt the traffic lights to change. This is why states that have a modified version of this law tend to at least allow cyclists to go through a ‘stale’ red light.