The Idaho stop is the common name for a law that allows cyclists to treat a stop sign as a yield sign, and a red light as a stop sign. It first became law in Idaho in 1982, but has not been adopted elsewhere. A limited form of the law called "Stop as Yield", that deals only with stop signs, has expanded to parts of Colorado and been considered in several other states. Advocates argue that current law criminalizes normal cycling behavior, and that the Idaho stop makes cycling easier and safer and places the focus where it should be: on yielding the right-of-way. Opponents think it is less safe because it violates the principles of vehicular cycling and makes cyclists less predictable.
The original Idaho yield law was introduced as Idaho HB 541 during a comprehensive revision of Idaho Traffic laws in 1982. At that time, minor traffic offenses were criminal offenses and there was a desire to downgrade many of these to "civil public offenses" to free up docket time.
Carl Bianchi, then the Administrative Director of the Courts in Idaho, saw an opportunity to attach a modernization of the bicycle law onto the larger revision of the traffic code. He drafted a new bicycle code that would more closely conform with the Uniform Vehicle Code, and included new provisions allowing cyclists to take the lane, or to merge left, when appropriate. Addressing the concerns of the state’s magistrates, who were concerned that "technical violations" of traffic control device laws by cyclists were cluttering the court, the draft also contained a provision that allowed cyclists to treat a stop sign as a yield sign—the so-called “rolling stop law.” The new bicycle law passed in 1982, despite objections among some cyclists and law enforcement officers.
In 2006, the law was modified to specify that cyclists must stop on red and yield before proceeding straight through the intersection, and before turning left at an intersection. This had been the original intent, but Idaho law enforcement officials wanted it specified. The law originally passed with an education provision, but that was removed in 1988 because "youthful riders quickly adapted to the new system and had more respect for a law that legalized actual riding behavior."
- Because of the positive externalities of cycling, bicycle laws should be designed to allow cyclists to travel swiftly and easily, and this provision allows for the conservation of energy.
- By allowing cyclist to get in front of traffic, they become more visible, and in so doing, safer.
- Current laws were written for cars, and unlike cars, it is easy for cyclists to yield the right-of-way without coming to a complete stop. Because cyclists are moving slower, have stereoscopic hearing, have no blind spots and can stop and maneuver more quickly than cars, current traffic control device laws don't make sense for cyclists.
- With the Idaho stop, at special intersections where lights are controlled by sensing equipment, there is no need to provide extra equipment for cyclists.
- The stop-as-yield provision reduces conflict between neighborhood traffic-calming advocates wanting more stop signs and bicycle commuters.
- Changing the legal duties of cyclists would provide direction to law enforcement to focus their attention where it belongs—on unsafe cyclists (and motorists).
- The usual law forces cyclists to choose between routes that are more efficient but less safe due to higher traffic volumes, and routes that are safer, but less efficient due to the presence of numerous stop signs. Allowing cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs empowers them to legally make the safer routes more efficient.
- The only study done on the safety of the Idaho Stop shows that it is slightly safer.
- The provision relies on the judgement of cyclists, but children ride bikes and lack the judgement to do this maneuver safely.
- Allowing cyclists to behave by a separate set of rules makes them less predictable and thus, less safe.
Examples and legislative history
Idaho is both the largest and longest practitioner of the safe stop. Mark McNeese, Bicycle/Pedestrian Coordinator for the Idaho Transportation Department says that "Idaho bicycle-collision statistics confirm that the Idaho law has resulted in no discernible increase in injuries or fatalities to bicyclists."
In 2012, a decree in Paris allowed cyclists in that city to turn right or, if there is no street to the right, proceed straight ahead on red, under the condition that they “exercise caution” and yield to pedestrians, after road safety experts deemed the measure would cut road accidents.
In parts of Colorado, the stop-as-yield law is in place. In 2011, the cities of Dillon and Breckenridge, Colorado, passed stop-as-yield laws, in 2012 Summit County passed a similar law, and in 2014, the City of Aspen passed one as well. Fort Collins considered the same law in 2013, but declined.
Many states have laws allowing cyclists to proceed through a red light if the light doesn't change due to the inability of the embedded sensors in the ground to detect them. Such laws often require that the cyclist confirm that there is no oncoming traffic and that they wait some amount of time or cycles of the light.
Attempts have been made to introduce similar legislation in Minnesota, Oregon, Arizona, Montana and Utah. Minnesota legislators introduced a bill similar to Idaho's in 2008, but it never made it out of committee. In 2009 Idaho stop or stop-as-yield bills were introduced in three states without success; in Oregon, a lack of support for the Idaho stop bill - many legislators cited constituent opposition to giving cyclists what they viewed as special rights - led a key legislator to refuse to schedule a work session on it and it died in committee as did a stop-as-yield bill in Arizona. The same year in Montana a stop-as-yield bill was opposed by the insurance industry and the Montana Highway Patrol and was voted down in committee. In 2010, a stop-as yield bill in Utah passed in the House and the Senate transportation committee but failed to pass on the Senate floor by one vote in an 11-11-7 vote; the following year in Utah it again died in the Senate on a tie vote after passing the House That same year a similar bill in Arizona again never made it out of committee. In 2011, in Oregon, the Idaho stop bill was never voted on in committee and failed upon adjournment, and the stop-as-yield bill met a similar fate in Arizona again. In 2012, the Arizona stop-as-yield bill finally made it out of one house committee, only to fail in another.
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