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Bill to let cyclists treat stop signs as yields advances

by Eric S. Peterson
- Posted // 2011-02-22 -

Holliday Democrat Carol Moss’s bill to allow bicycle riders to treat stop signs as yields gained momentum today and passed out of the House Transportation Committee with a favorable vote.

Moss argued her House Bill 155 was not just a bicyclist’s bill, but would actually improve safety on the road. She argued that bicyclists that have to unclip from their pedals for stop signs slow the traffic flow. “I often observe people who break this law, but do so because it’s the safest thing to do,” Moss says.

Her bill is making a comeback on the hill after failing in the 2010 Legislature. This year Moss removed a component of the bill that would allow bicyclists to also treat red light stops as yields if there is no traffic. “This [bill] simply allows a cyclist who comes up to a stop sign to look carefully, and if there are no cars coming, to proceed through the intersection,” Moss told the committee. “This is similar to a law in Idaho they’ve had for 29 years.” Moss told the committee that in the nearly three decades the Idaho law has been on the books, that state has not seen any noticeable increase in traffic accidents involving bicyclists.

Greg Hoole an attorney and cyclist who presented with Moss pointed out the bill would not give any special legal exemptions to cyclists involved in accidents. He did say that such a law could engender more respect for all traffic laws among cyclists. “Cyclists should be focused on traffic and safety, rather than coming to a stop when it doesn’t make any sense to,” Hoole said.

Rep. Val Peterson, R-Provo, asked if cars should be allowed to roll past stop signs if there’s no oncoming traffic. “I’ve read studies to suggest that might be a preferable way, but I’m not going to run that bill,” Moss said. “Cars that run through stops are at a greater risk of running into children. It’s a greater danger than somebody on a bicycle.”

Chris Purcell, a lawyer for State Farm insurance argued to the committee that allowing permissive double standards for bicyclists could be a slippery slope to more reckless bicycling. “Clearly yielding is not as safe as stopping,” Purcell said, telling the committee he has personally seen bicyclists ride over crosswalks and sidewalks to beat traffic lights. “This bill will encourage recklessness over time.” A sentiment shared by committee member Rep. Todd Kiser, R-Sandy. “I’ve logged over 2,000 miles on my bicycle. I’ve done dirt and I’ve done road and I think this is a very convenient law for bicyclists but I don’t think it enhances public safety.” Kiser said. “My experience riding tells me that if I was allowed to roll through [stops] then I would start rolling through them as quickly as I can.”

Moss in her closing arguments to her bill simply argued that the current system actually doesn’t match public safety with the reality of bicycling. If bicyclists avoid less congested back streets for fear of having to stop at every stop sign, they will use more traffic-congested streets where they will have to interact with motorists more often.

“The current system—if followed—impedes the smooth flow of traffic,” Moss said. “I think this is a common sense law and it clarifies a practice that is already done.”

The bill passed favorably out of the committee with 8 yes votes to 4 no votes. It will now go to the House floor for debate.

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Posted // February 24,2011 at 23:46

Something like the Idaho stop sign law (which, as the article states, has nearly 3 decades of success, including btw in the big city of Boise) could work elsewhere, no reason why not.

People often comment on scofflaw cyclists. But if you stand at any given stop sign and count the motorists who actually stop properly (i.e. a full stop, before the line / painted crosswalk / unmarked crosswalk / travelled part of the crossing roadway, whichever comes first) you'll find it's not more than ten percent, with the vast majority flouting the law.

Most motorists just roll through. A very small percentage will stop, but past the point where the law requires it. And perhaps as many as 10% but not more will stop according to the law.

I know because I've observed it, after once hearing that only 7% of drivers routinely stop properly at stop signs and red lights. I thought the figure seemed much too low until I started consciously observing behaviour at stop signs and red lights. I'd say cyclists are scarcely less observant of these laws than motorists.

It comes down to disdain for an inconvenient law, and is not especially related to the mode of transportation. Of course it's the motor vehicle which is vastly more likely to cause the death or serious bodily injury of some innocent party if the operator does something unsafe. This actually happens so often that it's barely newsworthy.

The current, unenforced stop sign laws just bring the law into disrespect. OTOH rolling through a stop sign brings benefits both to society and the individual IF it's done safely the way most 'scofflaw' motorists and cyclists do it. For society, rolling through generates less air and noise pollution compared with accelerating again from a full stop. For the motorist it saves fuel, and is easier on brakes and drivetrain. Similarly the cyclist maintains momentum, so doesn't need to expend nearly as much energy getting back up to speed as if he'd come to a full stop.

So I believe it could work as well for motor vehicles if there were some simple, objective way to show when someone wasn't slowing to a safe speed.

The difficulty is that an officer's statement that a vehicle operator failed to slow enough would be easier to challenge than saying the operator didn't come to a full stop. Whether that's a practical limitation I'm not sure.

As things stand there's little danger of being charged for rolling through unless you're actually seen to be creating a dangerous situation or the cop has some other reason to want to stop you.


Posted // February 25,2011 at 10:21 - Like I said, I didn't realize this was a critical problem needing legislative solutions. Those darn toe clips! Reminds me of the South Park episode where the gay teacher invents a new mode of transportation to get even with the airlines. It's a contraption you straddle and as you sit down, a dildo mounted on the frame goes up your behind and you have another one in front of your face that you suck on while you pedal. All the buyers thought you had to take it up the ass and suck on it simultaneously to make the damn thing work properly. Turns out, it worked just fine without those physical insults. The gay teacher just thought it would be funny. Toe clips in traffic, indeed. One question: What constitutes "success" in the Idaho program? That no one has been killed? That Idaho cyclists poll "much happier" these days? Just curious what empirical data was examined to declare the success that you and Moss claim.