Have questions?
Call us for a free consultation!
(415) 466-8717

Cyclists May Soon See a Change To The Rules For Bikes at Stop Signs


As a law firm, we advocate always obeying the law when you’re on your bike.

However, a proposed new law may make it possible for you to take the next stop sign you see as more of a suggestion than a rule.

The Streetsblog SF reports:

“…The SF Board of Supervisors is going to discuss the Bike Yield Law at City Hall. The ordinance would instruct San Francisco police to, in practice, adopt an ‘Idaho Stop’ policy — meaning cyclists could treat a stop sign as a yield.”


What is the Bike Yield Law?

Anyone who rides a bike knows that frustrating feeling of having to slow down and stop for a stop sign when you’re rolling with lots of momentum. It’s not very fun, and many cyclists choose instead to simply slow down and make a judgment call about whether or not they will come to a full stop.

Today, in San Francisco, this practice isn’t legal, but many cyclists do it anyways.

Although making this kind of a judgment call (rather than obeying the law to the letter) makes common sense to many cyclists, they still are breaking the law when they do so. This can result in ticketing by police, and can be a challenge against you if you are injured in an accident where you didn’t obey a stop sign.


Why do cycling advocates want a Bike Yield Law?

The proposed Bike Yield Law would make it legal for cyclists to make a judgment call at every stop sign and perform what is called an “Idaho Stop”.

An “Idaho Stop” is a practice wherein cyclists ride up to a stop sign and, instead of coming to a complete stop, they simply slow to look left and right and if the way is clear, they proceed through the intersection as long as there are no other cars or pedestrians present with the right-of-way.

Inspired by a similar law passed in Idaho (hence the name), an “Idaho Stop” law doesn’t allow cyclists to simply blow through stop signs or violate a car or pedestrian’s right-of-way; however, it acknowledges the fact that bikes aren’t cars and should perhaps be regulated in a way that suits their typical use better. Bikes have better visibility and faster stopping power than cars, and many cycling advocates believe this means they should have more leeway at the intersection.

Not everyone is a fan of the Idaho Stop, however. Many drivers and pedestrians find it confusing and stressful to approach an intersection at the same time as a cyclist, because they aren’t sure if the cyclist is going to slow down or stop. Mayor Ed Lee has also vowed that he would veto this law if it came before him.

Passing the Bike Yield Law could offer some clarification in expectations for cyclists, drivers, and pedestrians alike when approaching an intersection and make it less stressful when a bicycle approaches, according to the law’s advocates, since the cyclists practicing judgment at the stop sign will be obeying the law.

It would also mean that cyclists who are currently using a form of the Idaho Stop already may face fewer tickets from law enforcement on their commute home or weekend outing.

From the Streetsblog SF post:

“It’s not saying that cyclists are above the law,’ explained Ivy Lee, a staffer for Supervisor Jane Kim, who supports the law. ‘It’s just applying common sense — our cops have more important things to do.’”


What happens next for the San Francisco Bike Yield Law?

If the law is implemented, advocates say it could improve the number of people choosing to bike, since they will be able to ride more naturally and efficiently without facing expensive tickets. And of course, more bikes and fewer cars on the road is a good thing.

The law has been approved by San Francisco’s Transportation Committee, and will go before the Board of Supervisors on December 15th. It is still fairly controversial at this point and will require a significant number of votes in order to be passed on the 15th.