Tuesday, July 26

Idaho Stop and Idaho Go

Idaho is virtually alone in the following laws that, to many cyclists, would seem to recognize that it truly IS more of a burden to make a full stop at a stop sign for a human-powered bicycle than for a motorist, not to mention that the method of triggering traffic signals is not always obvious and immediate:

I've seen many posts about the Idaho law. Some of these posts have condemned it. Some of these posts have extolled it. Some have merely discussed it. Myself, I've not seen any real evidence that the law has increased cycling problems or cycling crashes. On the other hand, I'm not comfortable in extending "special" privileges to only one class of traffic without any evidence that this is being done for any safety reason.


49-720.STOPPING -- TURN AND STOP SIGNALS. (1) A person operating a bicycle or human-powered vehicle approaching a stop sign shall slow down and, if required for safety, stop before entering the intersection. After slowing to a reasonable speed or stopping, the person shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle in the intersection or approaching on another highway so closely as to constitute an immediate hazard during the time the person is moving across or within the intersection or junction of highways, except that a person after slowing to a reasonable speed and yielding the right-of-way if required, may cautiously make a turn or proceed through the intersection without stopping.
(2)  A person operating a bicycle or human-powered vehicle approaching a steady red traffic control light shall stop before entering the intersection and shall yield to all other traffic. Once the person has yielded, he may proceed through the steady red light with caution. Provided however, that a person after slowing to a reasonable speed and yielding the right-of-way if required, may cautiously make a right-hand turn. A left-hand turn onto a one-way highway may be made on a red light after stopping and yielding to other traffic.
(3)  A person riding a bicycle shall comply with the provisions of section 49-643, Idaho Code.
(4)  A signal of intention to turn right or left shall be given during not less than the last one hundred (100) feet traveled by the bicycle before turning, provided that a signal by hand and arm need not be given if the hand is needed in the control or operation of the bicycle.

So, might you conclude that I'm in favor of such a law? Well, not quite. Here's why.

Go to any typical stop sign. Pick your location of choice. Pick one that is comfortable because you might be there a while. Now watch. Don't bother watching cyclists. Most of them will blow right through the sign without even looking. THEY would clearly be in violation of the Idaho law, not to mention all other laws. No, instead, watch the motorists. It won't take too long before you'll notice that MOTORISTS generally operate in accord with the Idaho law - or they would if it actually APPLIED to motorists. You'll see that that they mostly slow down, and, if required for safety, stop before entering the intersection.

If we follow the "same road, same rules, same rights" principle, the law would apply to motorists and bicycles alike. After all, motorists operate that way anyway. Why make them all, technically, into criminals? You might wonder what is the point of stop signs if not to make people stop? Well, that WAS the original purpose, but over the years, stop signs have grown up willy nilly, mostly in places where yield signs or less would be MORE than adequate. Still, how much would it cost to change all those signs, with local people fighting it every step of the way? Instead, might it not simply make more sense to change the law and match the way traffic really operates? Rantwick would be clearly legal. So would anyone driving (or riding) in accordance with conditions. And, honestly, would you, as a cyclist, begrudge any motorist operating safely at a stop sign, even if that same motorist didn't strictly come to a complete stop? Heck, I've OFTEN been passed by motorists as I stopped for stop signs. ALWAYS safely. If necessary, the few signs that really OUGHT to be stopped at could have something at the bottom along the lines of "really!"

Now, you might criticize such a proposal, noting that if you made such behavior legal, motorists would abuse it. Well, do you have any OBJECTIVE EVIDENCE to support such a position? We could always repeal such an "equal opportunity" law. Besides, even though it is clearly illegal, people on bikes ride the way they ride. Why should motorists be any different?

Run the Stop Sign? On a Bike or in a Car?
NOW, let's move on to traffic lights. THAT, to me, seems a bit more dicey. I've experienced motorists passing me in order to run a red left turn signal. That seems a much more cut and dried case and I have not got a lot of sympathy for a motorist or cyclist that blows a red light. I might not mind a law that clarified how long someone must wait at a red light before ignoring it, but the Idaho law seems like it'd make me nervous if literally applied to motorists as well as cyclists. It fails the "same rules" smell test.

Going to the Right of the Motorist and THEN Blowing the Light Would be Illegal in Idaho
Running THIS Light Would be Legal Anywhere!

I guess, what I'm saying, is if we are talking about safety rather than simple convenience, that what is good for the goose (people on bikes) is good for the gander (motorists). If you are unwilling to extend such things to motorists in a given circumstances, go back in my blog and reread the Land Rover Rule. If such things would be safe if performed by a motorist, maybe we should stop restricting people needlessly. Just sayin'

In this case, Cyclists are the Geese, Motorists are the Ganders


RANTWICK said...

Perfect Steve. I've often thought that my treatment of stop signs very closely mirrors the rolling stops of motorists. I think matching the laws to most people's repsonsible practice is the best approach. I also don't like special laws for any one group.

+1 on traffic lights too. I don't mess with them because they are actively controlled and there for a reason (speeds, usually).

Steve A said...

A Rantwick opinion carries much weight with me, especially when we agree. I have always found it suspicious that he lives near Toronto while my mom is originally from Toronto. The trick is how we make it easy and clear for the cops to know who to stop and who to ignore without getting silly about things. And make that same criteria clear to those they'd stop or ignore. That "how" is a fundamental problem with traffic law. I'm definitely in favor of traffic law not making outlaws of most people absent some compelling and unarguable reason. Stop signs currently make most people into minor criminals. Cyclists, as minorities, get extra shame over same which, ironically, lets many of them simply sail through the devices without even a shred of guilt.

John Romeo Alpha said...

Steve you have inspired me, I shall respond at length on my blog. Things went haywire with traffic control when the "replace YIELD signs with STOP signs" frenzy took hold, and now there are too many red octagons that should be inverted triangles. I do feel the safer choice is a full stop for everyone, not because of the 1000 times that works great, but because of the 1 time that a roll-thru ends badly. I guess that means I am opposed to the Idaho stop for cyclists.

Al Dimond said...

The biggest difference between cyclists and drivers, as their responsibilities under the law are concerned, is that drivers have much greater potential to injure and kill others.

I actually like mini-roundabouts for traffic control on neighborhood streets. We have them in my Seattle neighborhood. They provide a natural way to mediate flow for all road users and a natural slow-down near the intersection, and only rarely require full stops. They are in theory awkward or inconvenient for pedestrians, but in practice stop sign-controlled intersections are no better. I'm a pedestrian in my neighborhood far more often than I'm a cyclist or driver, and I like the circles just fine.

Steve A said...

Responsibilities under the law are identical. However, failure to live up to those responsibilities is clearly much more serious when the perpetrator is operating a more deadly vehicle. I'm not sure that Al and I disagree in principle here.

I suspect the mini roundabouts he refers to are much like the one in http://dfwptp.blogspot.com/2011/04/my-first-bike-was-jc-higgins.html I'm not sure why they would be inconvenient for pedestrians. In most cases, the roundabouts replaced uncontrolled intersections. I don't think they slow down responsible motorists, but they do restrain the limits of how far an outlaw can go. They are very effective at collecting drunks.

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