Bicycle Laws: Where are We with the Idaho Stop?

In January, Mayor Ed Lee vetoed an ordinance passed by the Board of Supervisors that would have discouraged San Francisco police from ticketing bicyclists who roll stop signs.

The ordinance proposed by Supervisor John Avalos would not have made the so-called “Idaho stop” legal, but would have relegated the infraction to the lowest enforcement priority for police.

In his veto message, the mayor said he did not want to “trade safety for convenience,” saying the rolling stop, “while expedient for some cyclists, directly endangers pedestrians and other cyclists.”

Though the mayor’s letter did not suggest the practice endangered the cyclist himself or herself, nor motorists, Police Chief Greg Suhr had opposed the ordinance citing crash statistics showing cyclists at fault in nearly half of reported collisions in the first nine months of 2015. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC) countered that these data did not indicate what were the circumstances leading up to these crashes.

The enforcement issue had become intensely controversial following a police crackdown last summer on bicyclists rolling stop signs along “The Wiggle.” Activists staged a “stop in,” in which participants came to a full stop at each intersection, placing a foot on the ground, to illustrate that rigid adherence to the letter of the law snarled traffic and actually made things less safe for all road users.

California state law treats bicyclists as motorists for purposes of most road safety rules. But as the SFBC points out, there are reasons why not coming to a full stop at a regulated intersection is actually safer in many instances.

Unless a motorist — or another cyclist, or a pedestrian — is arriving at the same intersection simultaneously with you, or where there is a steady red light, the law requires you to stop only in the sense that your wheels stop moving momentarily.

It will usually not be necessary to clip out and put a foot on the ground, but if there is other traffic at the intersection, this is a very efficient way to communicate to the cross traffic or the oncoming left that you are declining to accept the offer to yield their right of way.

The point is that everything works more smoothly if people behave in a predictable manner, and according to established rules.

Even the Idaho “rolling stop” law requires a cyclist to assess whether someone else who is approaching the intersection has right of way and whether the cyclist would create a dangerous situation by entering the intersection.

Bottom line, be alert and sensible out there. And if you do get into trouble, remember we are here to help.

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