Innovative public policy from the Mountain West: Example 2
Posted by Danny Morris on August 6, 2009
As an urban cyclist in the District of Columbia, my goals when I’m on my bike are quite simple: stay away from things that can kill you (namely cars) and maintain momentum as much as possible. They are both great ideas in theory, but not so easy to follow in practice, especially when navigating the plethora of stop lights and signs that populate our fair city. That’s why I’m a huge proponent of the Idaho Stop Law. The law, named after the clever state that instituted it in 1982, says that cyclists may treat stop signs as yield signs (they must stop for those w/ the right of way, but can proceed w/o stopping if the coast is clear) and may treat stop lights as stop signs (they must stop, but can proceed when the coast is clear, even if the light is still red). If that doesn’t make total sense, this handy-dandy video made in support of similar legislation in Oregon (which subsequently failed) will help illuminate the situation:
Like I said, i think it’s absolutely brilliant, and it’s what a lot of city cyclists do anyway. But wait, you might be asking, wouldn’t such a law result in more accidents because it would put cyclists in dangerous situations where they could be hit by oncoming traffic? Apparently not. According to the Athlete’s Lawyer (via Greater Greater Washington) reports that the year after the law’s inception, bicycle injuries dropped 14.5%. Isn’t it exciting when public policies make our lives better?
There are a lot of reasons the law makes sense (treats bikes different from cars, allows bikes to maintain momentum and reach top speeds easier, creates separation between bikes and cars going the same direction, etc), but the best reason is because it lets cyclists determine their actions based on their own assessments of their safety. Cyclists are certainly more aware of what they need to do to be safe than drivers and pedestrians, and they are in a position to determine how much time they have to cross an interaction, react to oncoming cars, etc. I don’t know why the law hasn’t been adopted in biking hubs all over the country. Sigh, if only everywhere else were as progressive as Idaho…