By Douglas Shinkle
Delaware became the second state to enable bicyclists to yield, not stop, at stop signs, when Governor John Carney signed House Bill 185 into law.
Such a rolling stop is known as an “Idaho Stop,” as Idaho has allowed bicyclists to roll through stop signs since 1982 as long as they yield the right of way as necessary.
Notably, Idaho’s law was amended in 2005 to also allow bicyclists to fully stop, yield to any oncoming traffic and then proceed through a stoplight as well. However, Delaware’s new law only applies to stop signs and only on roads with two or fewer traffic lanes.
Bicyclist advocates typically, but not universally, support Idaho Stop laws as a way to legalize typical riding behavior and reduce the arduous task of stopping and then restarting and regaining momentum when riding.
They also tout the 35-year track record in Idaho with no difference in overall bike crash trends. Bicycling injuries in Idaho actually declined 14.5 percent the year after the law was changed and there have been no negative safety impacts documented since. Many cyclists already utilize an Idaho Stop when cycling. A recent study from DePaul University observed riders in the Chicago area and found that only 1-in-25 cyclists came to a complete stop.
However, those opposed to Idaho Stops dispute the safety claims and claim an Idaho Stop leads to more unsafe situations and unfairly advantages bicyclists at the expense of other road users. In many instances, law enforcement is opposed to Idaho Stops, but notably the Delaware State Police supported the bill, with some revisions and amendments.
Jeffrey Whitmarsh, a lieutenant in the Delaware State Police, was quoted saying, “It’s best when traffic laws reflect how people actually behave on the road."
Idaho Stops have been slow to gain traction, with only a few municipalities and counties in Colorado adopting similar ordinances. However, 2017 saw comparatively a lot of action on this front at statehouses, with Arkansas, California, Colorado and Oklahoma all debating such measures.
California’s bill, AB 1103, is still active. Colorado’s bill, SB 93, successfully passed the House and was stopped short of the full Senate by a 3-2 vote in the Senate Transportation committee.
Whether the increased legislative activity will lead to more victories for bicyclist advocates is uncertain, but it appears that awareness of the Idaho Stop is growing. This may also lead to more research on the topic in various settings, to help truly gauge the possible safety and mobility impacts.
Douglas Shinkle is NCSL’s Transportation Program director.