Utah Moving Forward on ‘Idaho Stop’ for Cyclists

Photo:  LAbreform
Photo: LAbreform

Utah cyclists will be able to treat stop signs and stop lights like yield signs if a bill making its way through the Statehouse is successful.

The House Transportation Committee recently passed House Bill 161, which would legalize the so-called “Idaho Stop” in the state, by a 10-1 margin.

The sponsor, Democrat Rep. Carol Moss, told the Salt Lake Tribune that the state should trust cyclists’ judgment.

“They know they will be the losers if they take risks with cars,” she said.

Research has shown bicycle injuries dropped 14 percent after Idaho passed its famous stop law in 1982. It allows cyclists proceed through stop signs and red lights if the intersection is clear, and yield to vehicles if it is not. Despite the success of Idaho’s law, no other states have fully followed suit. South Carolina, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin allow cyclists to move through a red light, but only after waiting a specific amount of time (two minutes in South Carolina’s case!).

And Delaware did pass a law in 2017 that allows cyclists to yield, rather than come to a complete stop, at stop signs.

Supporters of Utah’s HB 161 hope the Idaho Stop will encourage more people to bike, which would also improve the state’s poor air quality. Utah is an idiosyncratic state and has been a leader in sustainable transportation in some respects.

If you need a primer on the benefits of the Idaho Stop, this video is hard to beat.

Correction: The article originally misidentified Rep. Carol Moss’ party affiliation.

121 thoughts on Utah Moving Forward on ‘Idaho Stop’ for Cyclists

  1. “Research has shown bicycle injuries dropped 14 percent after Idaho passed its famous stop law in 1982.”

    This is a great albeit counterintuitive result. Did that research identify the causal mechanisms that improved safety? Bicyclists spending less time vulnerable in intersections? Knowing how adopting “stop as yield” improved safety would help other states accept this change in traffic laws. There is usually pushback because it is natural to assume that “running stop signs” leads to more collisions.

  2. Offhand, I think the improved safety occurs for two reasons:

    1) Cyclists who can just yield at red lights or stop signs get ahead of auto traffic before it leaves the intersection. Intersections where autos jockey for position after stopping are one of the most dangerous places for cyclists.

    2) After leaving ahead of car traffic, the cyclist has the road mostly to themselves, at least until car traffic catches up. Typically this occurs mid-block and the motorists have already sorted all the positioning out. They’re just staying in their lane, and hence things are safer when they pass the cyclist. In cases of very long red lights, the cyclist getting ahead may never get passed by the platoon of vehicles leaving the intersection on green.

  3. I’m wondering why it seems places where cyclists would benefit the most from Idaho stops, like NYC, don’t pass such laws. While this proposed law is certainly welcome, the benefits are marginal compared to what they would be in a place where you often have traffic signals every 250 feet.

  4. Joe, I believe that “Idaho stop” means treating stop signs as yields. It does not apply to stoplights.

  5. It seems always up to officer discretion, we need more cycling cops and should asknour cities to join them! ?

  6. Thanks Geck, I did not realize that “Idaho Stop” was actually two separate rules. So I guess given Joe’s comment the “stoplight as stop sign” rule is the one responsible for the safety gain because it allows bicyclists to separate from the platoon of cars waiting at the light. That effect evades my intuition.

  7. I agree with the principle, but I think these laws happen where they are easiest, first. Probably in NYC or SF or other places where they’d be super helpful, it’s a bit of a political hot potato

  8. The 14% decline is more likely due to other factors, or just random fluctuation. Since most cyclists were already doing “stop as yield” prior to the law, I think what you can conclude is that the Utah stop-law did not increase risk to cyclists.

  9. My question as well. I would like to see some support for this. Or some argument why this reduces bicycle injury,

  10. Anyone who’s traveled Salt Lake City streets as pedestrian recently knows that the place is one big disastrous injury and death trap. First the electric scooters are totally out of control – in less than a week I personally witnessed a dozen crashes (most of people just falling over but also 2 pedestrians getting hit – including my wife – and one guy who was texting and crashed right into a car stopped at a light. Bicycles are far and few between in Salt Lake City (as compared to loft 1.6% bicycle commute rate of Chicago) but still, the last thing we need is bicycles going through red lights and further endangering pedestrians crossing with the walk signs. Emergency rooms filled with daily injures from the electric scooters – let’s not add bicycles going through red lights to the growing emergency room problem.

  11. “South Carolina, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin allow cyclists to move through a red light, but only after waiting a specific amount of time (two minutes in South Carolina’s case!).”

    Ironically, these sorts of exemptions that stipulate the amount of time you need to wait can make it easier for local and state DOTs to not design or maintain their signals to detect bikes, Instead, they can say that the law allows bikes to go when they are not detected, which puts the onus of safety in cyclists’ hands, whether they want to be able to go through the intersection on their own or not.

  12. Given the general overuse of stop signs throughout the US and the use of such signs primarily to control motor vehicle traffic, this makes sense. This does not allow cyclists to blow through stops recklessly. As a cyclist, I always approach a stop sign ready to come to a complete stop or yield if needed. Do not take the right of way from other people, folks!

  13. @thielges – The research I’m familiar with that has that number (actually 14.5%) is by Jason Meggs, who did a longitudinal analysis of state safety statistics, which don’t record such mechanisms. He got even more dramatic safety numbers when comparing Idaho cities with comparable locations in California, including similar intersections.

    People who are absolutely sure they know what they’re doing as they roll two-ton vehicles through STOP signs, yet consider a superficially similar infraction by bicyclists as somehow the downfall of civilization, are not operating from nature and intuition.

  14. @Flatlander – Both cities are subject to state law, though NYC is thankfully a special case allowed to override some of it. San Francisco tried to skirt this with an ordinance of nonenforcement, but the Mayor scuttled it. (The current Mayor, however, has expressed support for an Idaho stop law.) But politicians “meddling” in enforcement is a different type of hot potato.

  15. SFnative74 is correct that Stop signs are generally overused in the US. Many of them are illegal because the locations do not meet the “warrants” (engineering rules) to allow using Stop signs. A very significant percentage of US Stop signs should be Yield signs – so both bike and vehicle traffic would be obligated to slow enough to assure no conflicts and then proceed. This reduces air pollution, noise pollution, wasted fuel, wear on vehicles, and lost time for both cyclists and vehicle drivers.

    Stop signs are quite rare in many European countries, Yield or Give Way protocol is the rule. Stop signs tend to be used ONLY where the sight lines for riders and drivers prevent accurately seeing if there are any approaching conflicts. I kept track on three successive UK trips totaling over 3,000 miles and encountered a Stop sign only about ever 800 miles. At intersections that were not roundabouts or traffic lights, the rule was Give Way (Yield) – even when a minor residential street was crossing a busy multi-lane highway.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  16. Could you give some specific examples of “illegal” stop signs? Besides the ones on school busses, which you’ve made clear the NMA considers an undue burden.

  17. This is not for Sincerely because I have stopped responding to those posts. For anyone truly interested is why many stop signs are illegal, they should study the meaning of “warrants” for stop signs.
    James C. Walker,

  18. You’re funny.

    I did a bit of googling for “illegal stop signs,” and pretty much the only people using that phrase are NMA extremists. It will be interesting to see if the NMA will refer to illegally high speed limits when the next revision of the MUTCD requires context, like pedestrian activity, be considered.

  19. Maybe I am wrong, but I would think many readers would be interested in some of the engineering practices that Europe does better than the US. Among others, the use of Stop or Yield signs for speed control is a violation of the MUTCD. The city of Livonia, MI won a Governor’s Traffic Safety Advisory Commission award for removing Stop signs that did not meet their warrants – and did speed studies to show the average speeds of vehicles were lower without the improper signs.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  20. They might be interested in that if it were truly relevant to the topic at hand, the Idaho stop law for bikes.

  21. Wouldn’t getting most of the improper Stop signs removed and/or changed to more proper Yield signs solve the issue at thousands of intersections for both cyclists and vehicle drivers? Why is that irrelevant?
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  22. Engineering is almost always the best solution to traffic safety issues. When people resist engineering changes that often permanently solve problems, it is appropriate to wonder why.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  23. Why would the change lead to a 14% decline when compared to similar intersections in California, where presumably compliance to stop signs is similar to Idaho’s prior to the change?

  24. I agree. It’s worth considering why you consistently reference fictional “negative consequences” whenever engineering changes to improve safety are suggested.

  25. For those interested in realities:
    Some things that improve safety have negatives for other issues. Failing to look at entire pictures can easily lead to bad proposals. For an extreme example that wouldn’t happen, limiting the speeds of all vehicles to 5 or 10 mph inside all city limits would drastically reduce fatalities for all users. Commerce would severely damaged, but fatalities would be drastically fewer.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  26. I haven’t heard anyone suggest we limit speed limits everywhere in cities to 5 or 10 mph. We do know that making streets more people-friendly, which includes lowering speeds, makes streets safer and often improves the retail environment. Cities that have severely restricted car use, either by design or by statute, have found it to be a boon to downtowns.

  27. I’d rather cities overuse stop signs than underuse stop signs. Otherwise pedestrians could have trouble finding a safe and convenient place to cross a busy street. Also they help to keep through traffic off side streets.

  28. It’s the American way! It doesn’t surprise me that most people here go straight to stop signs for solutions. I’ve been in European cities that were very safe and comfortable for pedestrians and bikes that had literally zero stop signs. Unfortunately this country has bred poor driver behavior and street design with weak driver ed and license tests, lax enforcement, and a lack of individual responsibility to drive at appropriate speeds and yield to others without being told to by stop signs or signals.

  29. If the US were like the UK about Stop signs, the Idaho rule for bikes would never come up, because encountering a Stop sign only ever so many hundreds of miles would make the proposal ridiculous. Engineering would make the change and fix.

    Would the change take time and a LOT of education – sure. Would it ultimately be of great benefit to cyclists and drivers alike, equally – sure.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  30. Replacing stop signs with give way signs is hardly an “engineering solution”; it is a regulatory change. Changing the situations where respective signs are used. Also it has no impact upon the situation regarding traffic-light-controlled intersections, the second stage of the Idaho Stop Law.

  31. You certainly describe the primary problem facing vulnerable road users both in USA and in Australia. I have ridden my bicycle and walked in Italian cities and in both travel modes never felt in any danger. As a pedestrian I knew the technique to *just-step-out* (regardless of whether there was a marked crossing or not) and was secure that ALL drivers would stop for me. Far, FAR safer than any Australian road.

  32. You may not, but many other cyclists DO do this. And when they do they place themselves into a more hazardous situation.

  33. Stop lights might require a rule, but a rare stop sign every X hundreds of miles would not – because there would be stop signs ONLY where the sight lines do not permit evaluating the risks.

    This will be provocative: If the Idaho rule existed for stop lights requiring the cyclist to stop first and then run the red light if the cyclist deems it safe to do that – then would it be OK if the cyclist got hit to cite the cyclist and find the driver not at fault?

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  34. Changing the rules for Yield versus Stop protocol is a major engineering solution with a great many benefits for all road users, GIVEN a well funded educational transition.

    See the provocative question to mckillio below.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  35. But the point remains that the Idaho stop would still have a benefit to cyclists, so your point is still moot. Please stay on topic and stop bringing cars into EVERYTHING.

    If the cyclist got hit then the intersection was obviously not clear and safe to cross, meaning the cyclist broke the law.

  36. If it would justify a law for cyclists at Stop signs encountered only every 300 or 500 or 800 miles of riding and only at places you cannot see the cross traffic – I respectfully disagree.

    I agree with your answer on the stop lights – but MANY venues would still try to unfairly blame the driver.

    Since most traffic rules are to control vehicles & drivers, cars figure in virtually all discussions of risks/benefits for cyclists and pedestrians.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  37. But you sai “the Idaho rule for bikes would never come up” which is clearly not true, you’re simply wrong about that as I easily proved.

    No, they wouldn’t and certainly not as many pedestrians and cyclists get blamed and that’s objectively true.

    You’re still of topic though, so how about you give it a rest for once?

  38. Yield signs (for cars) would allow drivers to kill more pedestrians and cyclists by offering them even more freedom to plow through intersections in heavy machinery.

  39. Here in Quebec, we only legalized right-on-red a few years back, and with lots of “well funded educational transfer” (you must attend private driving school here)

    The result is that a few extra pedestrians are killed each year. That extra deaths are occurring means that it’s less safe to walk, and that discourages walking and other more ecological ways to get around.

    Is climate change actually happening? Is it okay that walking is dangerous now? Should you need a few hundred hours of training and be totally vigilant just to “cross the street?”

    Go ask the NHTSA to answer these questions for you.

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