First it was marijuana — now, in the category or legalizing unlawful behaviors (that a whole lot of people participate in), Colorado lawmakers are considering the “Idaho stop.” The Idaho stop refers to a law passed in 1982 that allowed Idaho cyclists to treat stop signs like yield signs and red lights like stop signs. It’s a practice that tends to be loved by cyclists — and not-so-loved by drivers.
Introduced Jan. 18 by Senator Andy Kerr (D-Lakewood), the “safety stop” bill would allow cyclists to pass through intersections without stopping if they slow “to a reasonable speed, [yield] to vehicles and pedestrians, and can safely proceed or make a turn,” the Denver Post reports.
“For most people who drive and don’t ride a bike, absolutely nothing changes,” Kerr, a cyclist, said, according to the Post. “Cyclists can hear and see much better than somebody in a car. And studies done on this show that it’s actually safer overall for both cars and bikes to not sit there at intersections.”
As Jen Kinney wrote for Next City in December, the Idaho policy made it “legal to do what cyclists already do.” Researchers in Chicago recommended the Idaho stop to city legislators last year after observing cyclists at six intersections. Only 2 percent of those observed made full stops — meanwhile 43 percent made Idaho stops and 55 percent didn’t stop at all.
“What we saw is that cyclists are practicing common sense when it comes to intersections. They want to maintain their momentum but they also want to practice behavior that is in the best interest of their safety,” Jenna Caldwell, one of the DePaul researchers behind the study (and a cyclist herself), told Next City.
A 2010 study from the UC Berkeley School of Public Health found similar results — the Idaho stop is credited with reducing cycling injuries by 14.5 percent the year after it was instituted.
But not everyone in Colorado is onboard, and one senator told the Post he wants “some kind of immunity for vehicles that might hit the cyclists for doing something like this.”
For now, though, cycling advocates in Denver and elsewhere around the state are rallying around the bill. And for those opposed to the notorious Idaho stop, at least they can be grateful that no one is proposing a “California stop,” — where everyone, cyclists and drivers alike — roll right on through.
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.