A.B. 122 – Bicycle Safety Stop Bill
A.B. 122 – a bill which has passed the California assembly and may soon be voted on in the California Senate – would legalize the so-called California roll or California stop.
The Senate Committee on Transportation Digest on the bill reads:
“This bill permits a person riding a bicycle approaching a stop sign to yield the right-of-way, rather than stopping, to any vehicles that have entered the intersection or are approaching the intersection, and continue to yield the right-of-way until it is reasonably safe to proceed.”
There are some strong arguments in favor of legalizing the California roll, with the caveat that to be a true California roll, one must only enter the intersection when it is truly safe to do so; a cyclist rolling through a stop sign in a dangerous or reckless manner would still be illegal.
Arguments In Favor of the Bill
Legalizing Commonplace Conduct
The vast majority of people already ride this way, and in general it is a good idea to legalize what the majority of folks already do. I’m sure we are all aware of many behaviors/practices that the majority of people engaged in that were at one time illegal. In addition to other benefits, legalizing common conduct helps foster respect for the law in general.
This change to the law would also make cyclists more predictable to drivers (as well as to pedestrians and other cyclists). I can tell you that many people I interact with in my work as a bicycle accident attorney are surprised to learn that California law requires cyclists to stop at stop signs. Many drivers and cyclists alike believe that cyclists are required to stop at stop lights but not stop signs. Others believe cyclists are required to stop at neither if it’s safe to proceed. Others still are aware that a stop is required at both.
Those of us who know the current state of the law are nevertheless often left guessing whether a fellow cyclist nearby is going to fully comply with the letter of the law and stop, or not. This uncertainty leads to distraction and confusion for all. Consistency and accurate expectations lead to safety.
In my work as a bicycle accident lawyer, I have had cases where a cyclist came to a complete stop at an otherwise almost deserted intersection only to be rear-ended by another cyclist who was shocked at the “unexpected” and “pointless” stop of the cyclist in front. As a bicyclist, I myself was nearly rear-ended once by another cyclist in a quiet part of Oakland whose frustration, I had to admit, was understandable.
Through my work as a personal injury lawyer, I also see unequal enforcement of the current law. Some officers ticket cyclists for rolling through, even if it was safe to do so. Other officers don’t.
My prior experience as a public defender taught me that unfortunately discrepancies like this often coincide with officers being more motivated, and taking the opportunity, to ticket when the person is of a minority or marginalized group. Of course, the “safe to do so” requirement still leaves discretion to the ticketing officer, so it’s not a complete solution to that problem.
Does it really increase safety?
Of course, at the end of the day, none of the arguments above would make me believe that the law was a good idea if evidence showed that the law would not increase safety for cyclists. The law is supported by CalBike, which is an organization that advocates for bicyclists. CalBike clearly believes that the law will increase bicyclist safety. California also has the advantage of looking to other states on this. Many other states currently allow cyclists to yield rather than stop at stop signs, with favorable safety results.
In Idaho, a similar law has been in effect since 1982. One study of the law in Idaho found that compared to an otherwise similar city, but which lacked the stop-as-yield law for cyclists, Boise, Idaho was 30.4% safer for cyclists. And in the year following the implementation of the law in Idaho, bicycle injuries declined 14.5%.
More recently, Delaware passed a law allowing cyclists to yield at stop signs. According to data from the Delaware State Police, crashes involving cyclists at stop sign intersections fell 23% when comparing the 30 months prior and after the implementation of the law. All other crashes involving cyclists fell only 8% in the same time period, indicating that the change in the stop sign law was responsible for the large decline in cyclist crashes at stop intersections.
The Time is Now
It is always a good time to increase bicyclist safety. But now, with the big increase in bicyclists on the streets over the past year, is an especially good time. According to CalTrans’ California Transportation Plan 2050:
“In the months following the outbreak of COVID-19, more Americans embraced active travel. California cities that typically have low bicycle ridership, such as Riverside and Oxnard, experienced a 90 to 125 increase in bicycle miles traveled. Stockton, Bakersfield, Fresno, Sacramento, and San Diego also experienced increases of more than 50 percent.”
Making it safer to be a cyclist, while also increasing the convenience of cycling by not requiring unnecessary stops will help keep these new cyclists on the streets — benefiting us all through healthier air and reduced carbon emissions.