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The Pros and Cons of the Rolling Stop

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There are more cities and states taking a long look at changing rules regarding stop signs for cyclists. Does the ‘rolling stop’ have safety benefits for all road users? We take a look.

Oregon is just one of a number of places looking to adopt the ‘Idaho Stop’, or a rolling stop at stop signs and flashing red lights. This rule would allow cyclists to roll through these specific intersections. It’s a law that has been firmly in place in Idaho for over 30 years, and with more municipalities looking to encourage safe cycling to reduce traffic and improve healthy lifestyles, it’s popping up in all-new places.

In theory, the benefits of the rolling stop are two-fold. First, it allows cyclists to keep their momentum, which greatly improves the ease of cycling, especially for beginners. Second, it put the onus on motorists to pay attention at intersections and give non-motorized traffic the right-of-way. This new-found deference to cyclists, as well as regulation punishing drivers who hit or injure cyclists in intersections, helps to really put the pressure on motorists to be alert, to be aware, and to be careful.

States like Delaware, Arkansas, and Colorado have either state or city-level ordinances that allow for some version of the rolling stop. These communities haven’t seen changes in traffic incidents, as many opponents of such bills have argued. The numbers support rolling stop advocates; a study in Idaho showed that they saw 14% fewer incidents at intersections as a result of their bill passing. Many similar studies confirm these numbers, or at least show no discernible increase in traffic accidents with the introduction of these laws.

One of the main benefits is that riders tend to spend less time in a car’s blind spot if they are allowed to roll stop signs, reducing the amount of time riders aren’t visible. Some versions of these laws to include certain stipulations, such as bikes having to stop in left-turn lanes, or restricting the rolling stop rule to roadways with dedicated bike paths or bike lanes painted.

Overall, we’ve found that this sort of regulation reflects not just proven improvements in safety and efficiency, they reflect and reinforce real-life cycling habits. Most cyclists do tend to roll stop signs in some fashion or another, many of them aware, experienced, and comfortable with the practice already. In fact, many cyclists feel safer do this because it allows them to make the judgement to go before cars are present; without cars to deal with, they’re inherently safer than stopping and essentially inviting the opportunity for trouble with a hurried or distracted driver.

Questions about the ‘Idaho Stop’ or other urban cycling questions? Let us know, or submit your Ask Chuck query.