Should California bike riders be allowed to roll through stop signs?

Last October, the City of San Francisco was considering a law, known as the Bike Yield Law, which would allow bicyclists to roll through stop signs under certain circumstances. When I first heard about the proposed law, my gut reaction as an Alameda personal injury lawyer was that it sounded ridiculous. However, after discussing it with a cyclist friend of mind, I began to rethink the matter.

I checked whether San Francisco adopted the law or not. It turns out that the Supervisors passed the law, but Mayor Ed Lee vetoed it in January, 2016. He said that the “ordinance does not promote balanced public safety for all the diverse users of our streets, it trades safety for convenience.” So the law remains the same in San Francisco. If you are on a bike, the law requires you to come to a complete stop at a stop sign before proceeding forward.

The proposed law would have permitted the “Idaho Stop”, so named since Idaho has had this law since 1982. The Idaho stop permits bicyclists to approach a stop sign, check for approaching traffic, and pedestrians, and then roll through the intersection without coming to a complete stop. Essentially, stop signs would be treated as yield signs for bikers. Cyclists would still be required to fully stop for red lights.

In 2010, a study was conducted to test the efficacy of the Idaho statute. Bike injury rates had gone down by 14.5% annually since the law was enacted. The City of Boise, Idaho, with a population of 214,000 people, was compared with similarly populated cities, like Sacramento. Boise experienced a significantly lower bike accident rate. Less accidents would further reduce the number of bicycle related personal injury claims.

Cyclists in favor of the law argue that a cyclist’s situation differs significantly from that of the driver of a car. Bicyclists have a wider field of vision than a driver, because there are no obstructions to his view, and they approach intersections at a slower speed. Accordingly, they are better able to assess the roadway for conflicting traffic, and pedestrians. Thus, it is argued that safety is not jeopardized when a bicyclist performs a rolling stop.

Proponents also claim that the stop sign was designed for vehicles which are approaching intersections at much high speeds than bikes, often faster than 30 m.p.h. Thus, one of the primary purposes of the stop sign is to slow down the traffic in residential areas. But bikes are already operating at a much slower speed, and therefore, there is no need to slow them down further.

Think about this. Everyone agrees that cars should stop for red lights. But aren’t we allowed in California to stop at a red light and then turn right if the traffic is clear? This wasn’t always the law. And many states still do not allow cars to make a right turn on a red light. But the turn on red light laws were passed to expedite traffic (and to save on fuel costs associated with unnecessarily being stopped at a red light).

Maybe its time we reconsider this law in California. It would make biking easier which has many benefits. It’s good for your health, good for the environment, and an inexpensive mode of transportation. The risks of passing such a law seem small as the studies seem to show that safety is not jeopardized. In fact, there may well be an improvement in safety.


San Francisco’s Mayor Vetoes Rolling-Stop Policy for bicyclists, KQED, January 20, 2016

Why cyclists should be able to roll through stop signs and ride through red lights , Vox Transportation May 9, 2014

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