Most of us probably know of an intersection where we wish we weren’t legally required to come to a complete stop at the stop sign. Perhaps it’s a spot where there’s rarely any traffic, or where cyclists have a dedicated bike lane that traffic never crosses anyway.
In these cases, I wish it were legal to just slow down and check the intersection carefully before safely proceeding through. Another thing that sometimes annoys me is when I’m stuck standing at a red light that will only change when a car approaches the intersection and triggers a sensor embedded in the road. If you’re thinking right now of a spot like the ones I’ve described, I’ve got some good news for you.
The Colorado Safety Stop (HB 22-1028) is now Colorado law. According to the advocacy organization Bicycle Colorado, “This new law means that when an intersection is clear and they already have the right of way, bicyclists ages 15 and older may now treat stop signs as yield signs and treat stop lights as stop signs.”
In other words, at stop signs, we cyclists are no longer legally required to come to a complete stop. Instead, we now have the option of yielding to other vehicles and pedestrians who have the right of way before proceeding through the intersection at up to 10 miles per hour. We may go straight, right, or left if it is safe to do so.
At red traffic lights, we must still come to a complete stop, but after stopping, we may cautiously proceed in the same direction through the intersection or make a right-hand turn, without waiting for a green light. (Note that a left-turn is only allowed by the law when turning onto a one-way street.)
A few other details are as follows:
- The law applies to all “low speed conveyances,” defined as “small profile, low-speed vehicles that people use for transportation and recreation, including bicycles and electric bicycles, electric scooters (not including mopeds), and wheelchairs.”
- Intersections where bicyclist-specific lights or signs are present that prohibit the maneuver are exempt from the new law.
- Cyclists younger than 15 may perform the maneuvers described in the new law if accompanied by an adult.
Wow! This is a big change. In this post, I’ll discuss why Bicycle Colorado and other cycling groups advocated for the law, what it means in general for cyclists, and what it means for Venus Bike Club when riding in groups.
Data Shows It’s Safer
The safety stop is legal in eight states, including Idaho, which adopted it in 1982, explaining why you may have heard people refer to it as “the Idaho stop.” It’s also been legal in several Colorado local jurisdictions. In those places and elsewhere, data shows that the safety stop reduces bicycle injury crashes. Bicycle Colorado explains it as follows:
Intersections are by far the most dangerous locations for bicyclists, in Colorado and elsewhere. The most recent data we have from the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), which is comprehensive for the state from 2017-2019, indicates that in that time frame 72.2% of reported crashes between bicyclists and drivers took place at intersections or were “intersection related.” When bicyclists are able to get out of the intersection and away from that conflict zone before a potential crash can even occur their safety improves.
Another benefit is that the law decriminalizes common-sense behavior that some of us (Who me?) may have been practicing all along. Bicycle Colorado states that “Conversations with law enforcement officials across the state indicate this is not a crime they currently enjoy focusing on.” Now, law enforcement can put its attention on more important issues.
To learn more about the benefits of the law, see Bicycle Colorado’s Safety Stop Fact Sheet. Note that some details of the law were changed in the legislative process (e.g., the maximum speed for proceeding through a stop-sign controlled intersection went from 15 mph in the proposed legislation to 10 mph in the final adopted measure).
What It Means for Cyclists
Clearly, education is required so that cyclists — and motorists — understand the new law and its limits. Colorado State Representative Edie Hooton (HD 10), who was one of the bill’s main sponsors, wrote in a recent email to constituents that “Several state agencies are collaborating on producing educational materials about how to follow this new law legally and safely.”
Cyclists will need to follow the law carefully. While researching this blog, I came across an interesting article on the Idaho stop by Idaho Attorney Kurt Holzer. Holzer points out that “Allowing cyclists to do this is really about conservation of energy and recognizing the differences between bikes and cars.” Just as is the case with the right turn on red laws, the Idaho stop requires caution and judgment. “Judgment is something we all have to exercise all the time in using any form of transport,” writes Holzer.
I’m expecting that I may get some dirty looks or even rude gestures now and again from motorists who don’t know that what I’m doing is legal. But I think it’s worth it to gain the benefits the Colorado Safety Stop provides.
What It Means for Venus Bike Club Riders
Ride safely is still the rule, and that trumps anything else, all the time but especially on group rides. As discussed above, we all must continue to use our good judgment on the road. The maneuvers that the law legalizes are optional. No one is required to ride through a red light if she isn’t comfortable doing so.
Communication is essential, now more than ever. When approaching a stop sign, signal the rider behind you and verbally call out to let her know that you are slowing. Everyone should be prepared to come to a full stop if the intersection is not clear. Then, if you can proceed, say “rolling” or otherwise let those behind you know you’re proceeding. If you are following another rider, do not assume she is going to roll through the intersection because, if she needs to stop, you don’t want to crash into her.
This is going to take some getting used to. We are planning a clinic on safe riding and the rules of the road, which will address the new law as well as other topics. In the meantime, lead and sweep volunteers, please be sure you understand the law. If you have questions, ask us!