Frequently Asked Questions about Idaho Stop Law

What would this law do?
This law would make it legal for bicyclists to treat stop signs like yield signs. A cyclist approaching an intersection controlled by a stop sign, would be permitted to roll through the stop sign after yielding the right of way if there are other vehicles at the intersection.

Would cars have to stop and wait for bicyclists?
No, this law change would allow a cyclist to slowly approach the intersection and proceed only if the intersection was clear and it was safe to continue. The law does not grant a cyclist permission to take the right of way from another vehicle.

Why is it called “Idaho-Style”?
In 1982, the Idaho legislature passed a law that allowed bicyclists to treat stop signs as yield and not always come to a complete stop.

Is it legal anywhere else?
Idaho is the only state with this law, but several other state, including California and Montana, are considering it.

Why is stopping at a stop sign so hard for bicyclists?
While bicycling is fun and good for you, it does require some physical effort, and stopping and starting are when the most effort is required. Starting and stopping reduces the efficiency of cycling and is a deterrent to many people.

Why would we model ourselves after Idaho? Isn’t it a much smaller state with smaller cities?
While Idaho has a smaller population, if Boise were a city in Oregon, it would be the second largest in the state.

What if I feel safer stopping at all stop signs?
Nothing in the law would require you to roll through stop signs. If that is your preferred practice, then you can keep on doing it.

What about high volume intersections or ones with bad sight lines?
The law as proposed would allow cities to designate certain intersections as requiring a complete stop for bicyclists. Cities can make those decisions on a case-by-case basis.

Won’t this be a burden for law enforcement?
Law enforcement would be freed from conducting enforcement actions on low volume residential streets and focus more of their limited resources on high-risk intersections.

Why should bicyclists get special rights?
Operating a bicycle is different than operating a car. Bicyclists have heightened awareness both visually and audibly. Furthermore, stop signs create an increased physical burden on cyclists. Consider this from an article in Access Magazine titled Why Bicyclists Hate Stop Signs:

“…on a street with a stop sign every 300 feet, calculations predict that the average speed of a 150 pound rider putting out 100 watts of power will diminish by about 40 percent. If the bicyclist wants to maintain her average speed of 12.5 miles per hour, while still coming to a complete stop at each sign, she has to increase her power output to almost 500 watts. This is well beyond the ability of all but the most fit cyclists.”

Won’t this just further anger motorists?
While some folks may always view cyclists negatively, changing the law would eliminate the argument that cyclists are always breaking the law when they are actually acting in a very rational manner.

Aren’t there some cyclists that think this is a bad idea?
Many vehicular cyclists are concerned about laws that differentiate between bicycles and other vehicles. They believe that traffic laws should be applied equally to all road users, regardless of their mode of transportation. However, the differences between bicycles and motor vehicles are inescapable. Oregon law already accommodates some of those differences–bicyclists may ride on the sidewalk, bicyclists must ride in the bike lane if one is available and motor vehicles are not permitted to do so, …. The proposed Idaho Stops bill recognizes the differences in vehicle mass and acceleration and the greater vision and ability to hear that bicyclists have.

Why not just get the police to stop enforcing the law?
The police cannot simply stop enforcing a law on the books. They may have to prioritize certain enforcement actions, but the law is still the law.

Won’t this send the wrong message? To children?
No, this will send the message that a perfectly safe and rational action is legal. The overwhelming majority of bicyclists already roll through stop signs and do so completely safely. If a law is on the books and it doesn’t make sense, it sends the message that lawbreaking is acceptable behavior. That is the wrong message to send to children especially.

Why not apply this to motorists as well?
Stop signs must apply to motorists because their vehicles pose a much greater threat to bicyclists, pedestrians and other motorists.

Why not apply this to stop lights?
Stop lights pose a very different situation due to higher volumes and speeds.

Are there more bicycle crashes in Idaho?
No, their rates are comparable to all other states.

Comment

Comments (22)

  1. Dave Permalink  | Jan 15, 2009 09:44am

    This comment is only partly related to this post, but the bit about being required to ride in a bike lane if there is one – what if the bike lane is rendered impassable by garbage, gravel or whatever? Will a cyclist who rides in the automobile traffic lane in that case be held liable?

    Secondly, I think this is really a good idea. The only negative I see is that it might encourage some cyclists to treat stop signs as if they don’t exist, though I suppose that happens already as well. I think in general though, it makes a lot of sense to allow cyclists to roll through stop signs carefully if there is no other traffic at the intersection that they need to yield to.

  2. G.A.R. Permalink  | Jan 15, 2009 10:36am

    Stop signs are overrated. I would prefer to see stop signs replaced by yield signs in many places where sight lines are good. The yield sign (or triangle painted in the roadway) is ubiquitous in Great Britain and works great. By the way, I am one of those unfairly pejoratively termed vehicular cyclists who would prefer to see bikes treated as vehicles to avoid confusion and to retain the right to get places no later than cars do. You should be too. The problem of a cyclist having to stop and restart every 300 feet (150 lbs) is nothing compared to the problem of a car (2000 lbs plus) doing the same thing. Stop signs are a huge source of greenhouse gases.

  3. Jordan Permalink  | Jan 15, 2009 03:08pm

    To Dave:

    If the bicycle lane is unfit or unsafe for you to ride in you are legally allowed to ride in the automobile lane.

  4. brett Permalink  | Jan 15, 2009 03:39pm

    Excellent assessment of the advantages of the Idaho law. I think such a policy could really boost the number of not-in-such-great-shape yet regular folks who want to bike. Does this mean BTA will push for such legislation in the current Oregon Legislature? If so, this will provide good ammunition against ignorant hate mongers who’ll doubtless be appearing on shout radio and letters to the editor.

  5. Garrett Permalink  | Jan 16, 2009 08:36am

    I’m not an ignorant hate monger. I’m a guy who bikes or walks most places and only drives when I have to, hell I even created a biking at work program and got funding for it. I think that in this community this is a terrible idea.

    I don’t know many corners in this city with good sight lines. I’d rather see entire streets turned into bikes only streets. That’s something I would support. This…nah…sounds like more ghost bikes.

  6. Scobie Permalink  | Jan 26, 2009 03:27am

    If we want to be respected on the road we must obey the rules of the road.
    As a bike and car commuter I respect people on the road who do what follows the rules.
    What’s the big deal? Stop. Look around for those dangerous cars then Go.
    And enjoy the ride.

  7. floater Permalink  | Jan 28, 2009 11:28pm

    This proposal represents an enlightened understanding of how cyclists behave as rational and safe road users. Whether or not the public at large, is mature enough to look past their preconceptions of what the proposed law actually means is another story. I fear people won’t take the time to actually absorb the intent of the law…all they see are cyclists blowing through intersections. The burden is on us, the cycling community to communicate that this is case of adding appropriate nuance to the law, not a radical re-writing of the law.

  8. small town Permalink  | Jan 29, 2009 12:43pm

    Seems too complex for general behavior.
    Never seemed very hard to start and stop my bike. Sort of part of urban cycling.

    I think it would be better served if BTA worked with local cities to designate cycling routes based on potential for high auto and bicycle traffic flow areas. In these route that currently have 4 way stop signs be replaced with yield signs in the respective directions for both bikes and motorized vehicles.

  9. ckh Permalink  | Jan 30, 2009 11:17am

    I think there is massive misunderstanding of this law and that’s why people are opposed to it. It only affects cyclists and how they approach an “empty” intersection controlled by stop signs. If vehicles or pedestrians are approaching, they still have to follow the conventional rules regarding right of way….slow down and/or stop if necessary and proceed when it’s your turn. this proposed law does not mean cyclists are obligated to keep rolling through intersections, they still can slow down and come to a full stop when required or if they deem it necessary in their own judgment. This change should not affect interaction or the dynamic between cyclists and other road users when other traffic is present…since it doesn’t change anything when those conditions exist.

  10. joek Permalink  | Jan 30, 2009 11:43am

    Right-turn-on-red must have sounded like a dangerous, radical concept that would cause massive confusion when half the states allowed it and half didn’t…yet now all 50 states have been using it since the 1980s (unless prohibited by specific traffic signals) and now allowing road users to determine if it’s safe to proceed under a specific circumstance is no big deal…and if those opposed who say “same rights, same rules and responsibilities” truly believe that, why are we advocating operator licensing and liability insurance for cyclists? same rights and same responsiblities to operate safely and with regard to other users…but there have always been different rules.

  11. MJ Permalink  | Jan 30, 2009 11:51am

    Right-turn-on-red must have sounded like a dangerous, radical concept that would cause massive confusion when half the states allowed it and half didn’t…yet now all 50 states have been using it since the 1980s (unless prohibited by specific traffic signals) and now allowing road users to determine if it’s safe to proceed under a specific circumstance is no big deal…and if those opposed who say same rights, same rules and responsibilities truly believe that, why are we advocating operator licensing and liability insurance for cyclists? same rights and same responsiblities to operate safely and with regard to other users, yes…but there have always been different rules.

  12. MJ Permalink  | Jan 30, 2009 09:55pm

    sorry…typo. that should say if those opposed say same rights, same rules, etc…”why AREN’T we advocating operator licensing and liability insurace for cyclists?”

  13. HP Permalink  | Feb 01, 2009 10:02am

    There is a continuing problem in cycling, that a large part of our community still ride like kids, not drivers: riding on the left, running stops, especially when conflicting traffic is other cyclists, not waiting their turn at intersections, making left turns by riding on the left, generally being sloppy or worse.

    This chronic “I don’t count, I can do anything I want” behavior both threatens other cyclists, and makes it harder for drivers to take us seriously or be comfortable with us on the road. Moving cycling forward depends on cyclists being taken seriously and on being part of the traffic system. Above all it depends on cyclists being predictable. The proposed stop-optional law will encourage riders to not think of themselves as vehicle operators, and will delay real gains in safety and political support. With a more mature riding public, we could do this law and benefit. We aren’t there yet.

  14. Dr. Russell B. Marz Permalink  | Feb 03, 2009 03:41pm

    As a cyclist for over 40 years and originally from NYC I have a lot of experience in many different conditions. I am very excited and very happy the BTA has acted on this law change. I think that it is an absolutely wonderful idea that you are trying to get this “roll thru” Idaho law passed in Oregon. It really makes perfect sense and I am a very enthusiastically strong supporter of this law change. Having cyclists stopping at every stop sign like a car is just totally dumb. You really can’t expect a cyclist in the rain, going up hill with no one around to stop their bike at a stop sign. It makes perfect sense to allow bikers to slow down and roll thru stop signs, especially if no one in present. Bikes and cars are NOT the same and should be treated differently!!

  15. MM Permalink  | Feb 03, 2009 04:07pm

    I agree with HP. For credentials: I ride from inner SE to Tigard as a work commute. I am a very experienced cyclist. I ride in the suburbs. I am a very defensive cyclist and to be successful in my commute I must often act as, and be in the same physical space as vehicles. Many of the difficulties (read: dangerous situations) I have had with vehicles are because drivers treat the cyclist as a second-class vehicle. I do not support this bill because:

    • I believe that some motorists will use this to bolster their aggressive actions toward cyclists and
    • I believe that this will increase cyclist injury, reducing ridership and thus, reducing safety for all cyclists.

    I believe that providing a classification exemption of this sort will only strengthen this belief and lead to more aggressive treatment of cyclist by some drivers. This treatment is partly affirmed by cyclists disobeying traffic laws. The difficulty with this issue is that much of the discussion is about motorist perception. I have read the Ray Thomas article (http://www.stc-law.com/idaho_stop_law.html) and I do not agree with the assertion that: “Wouldn’t motorists have less to be grumpy about if the laws were different for bicyclists at stop signs and lights?” I believe the opposite, that existing motorists will substantiate their grumpiness and this exemption may entice other drivers to behave more aggressively toward cyclists. I believe that a precautionary approach – one that does not change the law is better than experimenting with bike safety. I also do not agree with Mr. Thomas’ belief that stop signs are a deterrent to new riders. I believe that safety is a deterrent to ridership. This brings me to my second point.

    Mr. Thomas asserts that: “And there is general agreement in the bicycle advocacy community that the best way to increase safety for bicyclist is to increase the number of riders on the road. As the numbers of bicyclist increases, the rate of injuries has decreased.” I agree that the more cyclists present, the safer cycling can be. However, this proposal also assumes that cyclists are always defensive and omniscient. If a cyclist makes a mistake at an intersection they are most likely injured as there is no car body surrounding them to protect them. I happened to be discussion this topic with friends during dinner the other night at the corner of SE Clinton and 26th. We watched as an eastbound cyclist slowed, but did not stop, a northbound car did not see the cyclist and hit the cyclist. (To be honest, the car began traveling / entered the intersection before the cyclist did – so the cyclist should have stopped even under this law, but proves my point; if a cyclist makes a mistake, it is injurious.) Therefore, if there are more cycling injuries, there may be fewer riders, making cycling less safe for all cyclists.

    I am a BTA member and I am asking them to please not support this law.

    Cheers and thanks for reading.

  16. Mac Permalink  | Feb 12, 2009 09:20am

    As a BTA member and a regular Bicycle commuter who rides from Mt Tabor to downtown. I also do not support this change in the law. In my view, if traffic patterns in an intersection are low enough to support yield for all vehicles, then change a stop sign to a yield sign for all the vehicles. I am troubled by the potential for confusion regarding which stops allow bicycles to yield and which require a bicyle to stop. I think this rule change might also increase the risk of right hooks.

    With respect to an earlier comment regarding the right turn without stopping rule, I think the key difference between that rule and this is that that rule still is consisent for all types of vehicles entering the intersection. A law change that allows one type of vehicle to disregard a rule that applies to other will simply increase confusion and reduce safety for all.

    One Biker’s view. Thanks.

  17. Michael Permalink  | Feb 12, 2009 07:49pm

    For those opposing this idea because motorists “may not understand the rule,” or “just see another bicyclist blowing past a stop sign”: This proposed law does not allow a bicyclist take the right-of-way from another vehicle. It would only be legal to treat the stop sign as a yield sign when no other vehicles are at the intersection. I doubt much behavior would change if this law were passed. It merely makes legal the civil disobedience already practiced by many cyclists.

  18. Michael Permalink  | Feb 12, 2009 07:59pm

    MM: The law as it stands now did not protect the cyclist you mentioned from himself or herself. What makes you think anything would be different with an Idaho style stop law? Natural selection is (and always will be) rough on the foolish.

    “The ultimate consequence of protecting men from the results of their own folly is to fill the world with fools.” – Herbert Spencer

  19. RAM Permalink  | Mar 20, 2009 05:14pm

    Sorry folks, I commute every day and ride on the weekends and I don’t think this is a good idea. If everyone obeyed the rules then yes it would work but right now about 50% of the cyclists I see blow through stops already so why the need and it will further irritate the driving public and we certainly don’t need that. Let’s shelve it along with the bill to charge $56 every two years for a license.

  20. Mack Permalink  | Mar 21, 2009 04:34pm

    As a daily auto driver in downtown Portland, my experiences with bicyclists is not a very positive one. I can never, that is, never, predict what a bicyclist will do. I always have to be extremely careful around you because I don’t know when you will obey the law or ignore it. Over the years, I have been pleasantly surprised maybe a dozen times when a bicylist in the lane behind me hasn’t driven around me at a stop light or a stop sign, on either side, legally or not. Also, unfortunately almost always, a bicylist will start off at a light before it has changed to green.

    I take my resposibilty as a car driver very seriously. I try very hard to share the road with you. I do not want to hurt you.

    Personally, I think the proposed voluntary-stop law is not a good idea. As a car driver, it is extremely important to be able to predict what a car or bicycle or pedestrian is going to do. If the law says that a bicyclist may roll through a stop sign is misinterpreted by him to apply in the wrong situation, we’re out of luck if I’m wrong in expecting him to stop and I want to turn but then I hit him. The problem with a “variable” law is this: at best it is interpreted unpredictably by a bicyclist who obeys the law. If the bicyclist knows the law but willingly disobeys it, but is hit, the car driver still assumes the responsibility. And if the bicyclist doesn’t know the law or only partly knows it, which I think will be the way most deal with it, then all bets are off. As a car driver I have to have predicability to prevent accidents. I always error in favor of accident avoidance, but there will still be accidents.

    Remember, you can disobey the laws of humans, but you cannot disobey the laws of physics. A bicycle always loses to a car.

    I share the road and accept my responsibility. Bicyclists must also share the road and accept your responsibility. All I ask is that you help me share the road responsibly.

  21. Carter Permalink  | Mar 24, 2009 08:10am

    I made a facebook group for this to help people organize, write their reps, etc. Just look up Pro Idaho Stop. Show some unity behind the law.

  22. Neil Permalink  | Jul 21, 2009 06:59am

    The cyclists I’ve seen in Boise are arrogant assholes. They rapidly approach stop signs, when I’m stopped and with the right-of-way, and expect to zip through. Well guess what? I’m not yielding. And man do they get upset.

    Everyone is complaining about how rough it is on bikers here and how motorists are so uncaring. No, the opposite is true. Most bikers here will not stay in their lane or they’ll ride two across in the middle of the street–even if there’s an empty bike lane. They expect to cars to yield to them no matter what. And they don’t care at all.

    I have no sympathy for these people and I believe their lack of concern, their “we have a right to” attitude and their failure to use the bike lanes Boise has generously given them have caused most accidents.
    If you’ve ever been to Boise they drive like old people–it’s horrible. So don’t tell me the drivers are the ones causing all these problems.


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