My Own Private Idaho Stop Law

Michael Giberson

Danny Morris at Common Tragedies explains and advocates for wider adoption of the Idaho Stop Law:

The law, named after the clever state that instituted it in 1982, says that cyclists may treat stop signs as yield signs (they must stop for those w/ the right of way, but can proceed w/o stopping if the coast is clear) and may treat stop lights as stop signs (they must stop, but can proceed when the coast is clear, even if the light is still red).

Morris links to a report at The Athletes Lawyer that said:

Meanwhile, in the past 27 years, Idaho motorists and police have grown to accept the legislation as sensible public policy, said Jason Meggs, a UC-Berkeley researcher who spent last summer crunching years of traffic data, conducting interviews and observing cyclist behavior in the state. Boise, home to Idaho’s biggest bike population, “has actually become safer for bicyclists than other cities which don’t have the law,” Meggs said.”

I guess I’ve been operating under my own private Idaho Stop Law, the description fits my usual riding habits pretty well.

Casual observation suggests the Idaho Stop is widely practiced by cyclists.  (See, for example, this article from The Oregonian where the author came up with the same Gus Van Sant movie reference that I’m using.) Perhaps one reason that the law improves safety is that it helps coordinate expectations of cyclists and motor vehicle operators.

3 thoughts on “My Own Private Idaho Stop Law

  1. it seems that if cyclists are going to do this anyway, it would improve safety to just go ahead and make it law. but we don’t do this in any other context — for example, speed limits are not raised just because people habitually exceed them (in perfect safety), and stop signs are not converted to rolling yield signs because that’s how people treat them (in perfect safety). (and dare I say it marijuana is not legalized just because people habitually smoke it, in perfect safety.)

    it seems strange to frame the debate this way in this one case. “they’re going to do it anyway, so let’s make it legal” is not a strong case. on the other hand, if someone actually came out and argued for the easing of traffic laws that no one follows, I’d probably applaud.

  2. Yep, we follow the Idaho Stop too, with one exception: we always stop at stop lights and wait. Perhaps that’s because drivers around Chicago tend to run stop lights, and we don’t want to run the risk! In actuality, though, I think it’s to signal to drivers that we are cyclists who obey traffic laws. I do think that cyclists who weave through cars at stop lights and ride in erratic and unpredictable ways do a disservice to the rest of the cyclists out there. But I also think that if the traffic laws explicitly recognized the efficiency of the Idaho Stop Law and publicized the law, both drivers and cyclists would be better behaved.

  3. I thought that research has shown drivers give more distance to cyclists that ride in erratic and unpredictable ways, and therefore such cyclists may be safer on the road.

    If you look erratic, drivers decide they actually have to pay attention to you. Or maybe it is simpler: if you do something out of the ordinary, drivers will notice you, otherwise you run the risk of fading into the background and not be seen at all. Not a good thing in my local world of large pickup trucks, minivans and SUVs.)

    Maybe I contribute to a negative reputation effect for cyclists to the extent I drive erratically (not that much, really – once in a while and mostly just for fun), or maybe I just help drivers be aware of cyclists on the road. In general, and I think Danny Morris made this point in his post, the cyclist is well motivated to ride safely around motor vehicle traffic, and I think that supports the case for the Idaho Stop in practice and in law.

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