Should California Change Its Stop-Sign Laws for Bicyclists?
In California, the heavy traffic coupled with the warm weather make riding a bike for commuting or pleasure a practical and fun alternative to driving. However, because cyclists must share the road with drivers, it is important to have safety laws in place. As such, there are a number of laws that outline how drivers and bicycle riders must interact and share the road, explains a California cycle accident lawyer.
The California Department of Motor Vehicles summarizes on its website the major requirements imposed on cyclists and drivers: bike riders on public roads have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers. In other words, riders must yield the right of way when required, obey stop signs and traffic signals, and refrain from drinking and cycling, as well as adhere to the same laws governing the actions of drivers. Likewise, drivers have to yield to bicyclists just as they do with any other vehicle on the road and must look carefully for cyclists before merging into bike lanes or turning.
Because bicyclists are required to comply with the same laws in the California Vehicle Code as drivers, they must come to a complete stop at stop signs. This law has been the subject of extensive criticism, including one recent piece published on SF Streets Blog.org.
The Problems with California’s Stop-Sign Rules
According to the SF Streets Blog, the California law that bicycle riders must stop at stop signs should be changed. The law, it is argued, has a fundamental flaw in that it treats bicycles and cars in the same way when, in fact, there are significant differences. Cyclists don’t have a vehicle around them creating a barrier, so they have a clearer line of site than cars. Riders are also able to stop more quickly if they notice an impending vehicle or other obstacle. The natural behavior of most cyclists is to opt for a rolling stop at a stop sign. Typically, the rider checks to see if the road is clear before continuing, instead of coming to a full stop.
A rolling stop is illegal and cyclists can be ticketed. The SF Streets Blog believes that this is unfair and results in selective ticketing by law enforcement agents, who should be focusing on more pressing bike safety issues. To stop this “unproductive” ticketing, it is suggested that California should create an exception, allowing cyclists to treat stop signs as if they were yield signs. This proposed rule is dubbed the “Idaho rule” due to the fact that Idaho amended its bicycle laws to allow for bike riders to slow down, check for traffic and proceed without coming to a full stop.
Arguments for Change
The major argument for the change is that a full stop is neither necessary nor practical for a cyclist. Ticketing bike riders for this behavior may distract from more serious safety issues. In fact, as the SF Streets Blog indicates, accidents due to cyclists’ failure to stop at stop signs are very rare, especially when compared to other common accident causes. For example, there are approximately three pedestrians injured by drivers each day, and a failure to yield by motorists causes 42 percent of accidents.
The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition agrees that there are more pressing issues than ticketing cyclists who choose a rolling stop. The Coalition has urged the San Francisco Police Department to focus its attention and resources on patrolling areas with high incidences of traffic violations and accidents.
Finally, another argument for changing the law centers on selective enforcement. The SF Streets Blog indicates that even law enforcement members who ride bicycles will opt for a rolling stop or yield instead of a full stop. These law enforcement agents, therefore, are ticketing people not only for behaviors that aren’t unsafe but also for behaviors that they themselves engage in.
The article on SF Streets Blog makes a strong argument for changing the law, one that legislators in the state should consider and investigate further through the commission of traffic safety studies.
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