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.
Arkansas became the latest state to pass the “Idaho stop” law to benefit bicyclists.
Two national bicycling advocacy organizations - the League of American Bicyclists and PeopleForBikes, strongly support the Arkansas law. The law has bipartisan support and allows a cyclist to do two things:
- They may treat stop signs as yield signs, and after slowing down, they may cautiously enter the intersection.
- After they have entirely stopped at a red light, they may proceed forward with caution while the light is still red.
The Idaho stop law does not apply to bicyclists riding on the sidewalk – only in the roadway.
There are important reasons to support an Idaho stop law.
Data suggests that the law enhances bicycle safety. First, Idaho has proven to be an exceptionally safe venue for bicycling under its stop law. In 2010, Cal-Berkeley’s Public Health Department published a study about the impact of the Idaho stop law by comparing Boise, the state’s largest city, to cities of comparable size in other states.
The study concluded that Boise experienced a reduction in bicycle injuries of 14.5% the year after the Idaho stop law passed. Boise also had lower bicycle injury rates than other comparable cities without the law. Second, an Idaho stop law makes sense because it allows cyclists to clear an intersection before a conflict with a motorist can arise.
One of the common crash modes for cyclists is called the “right hook.” With a right hook, a motorist makes a right turn at an intersection in which the cyclist to the right of the driver is going straight. Too frequently, when the motorist and cyclist are both at a complete stop, the motorist does not realize the cyclist is present. When the light changes to green, the driver turns right – into the cyclist. The Idaho stop law would authorize the cyclist to get a head start before the motorist moved into his right turn. The law would alleviate the bicycle crash because the cyclist had already cleared the intersection.
Another reason to pass the Idaho stop law is that it puts into law how cyclists already tend to behave. Cyclists often slow down at intersections but don’t take their feet off the pedals and reach a speed of 0 mph. The process of losing momentum, stopping completely, and then starting from a complete start, requires the expenditure of more energy by cyclists, causes cycling as transportation to take more time, and detracts from bicycle commuting as an alternative to motor vehicles as transportation. Complete stops at every stop sign result in inefficient cycling. For cyclists, too much traffic or too many stops causes them to avoid the route altogether. Thus, cyclists often roll very slowly at stop signs instead. It is less time-consuming and more efficient for cyclists to be able to roll slowly at an intersection and not have to stop completely.
Another reason to support the law is that it encourages cyclists to choose quiet streets for riding. Cyclists tend to select routes with low motorist traffic if they are allowed to yield at stop signs. Without motor vehicles in their close vicinity, the cyclists find they are safely able to yield without losing momentum on roads with low volumes of cars.
To encourage bicycling and promote its safety in intersections, Florida should adopt an Idaho stop law.