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I ride my bike to work nearly every day, even in winter. On top of worrying constantly about somebody opening their door on me, I have to stop at seven or eight stop signs on my route. If it’s clear, I slow down and treat them like a yield sign. It means I don’t have to stop constantly and lose momentum – and I can get to work a little faster. It’s hilly here, so not stopping definitely helps make my life a little easier. I’ve never gotten a ticket for making a rolling stop, but I’m expecting one. I know a bunch of places in the States allow this, so why don’t we? – Kim, Kelowna, BC

It’s been nearly 39 years since Idaho passed a law letting cyclists treat stop signs like a yield.

Since then, the idea of a rolling stop – often called the Idaho Stop – has slowly been gaining momentum across the U.S. But we still don’t have it anywhere here in Canada, and there are currently no plans to change that.

Montreal has looked at it, and there was a Calgary city councilman who tried to get the provincial government to look at it, and he couldn’t even get support in city council,” said Calgary-based journalist Tom Babin, who also runs a cycling blog. “The same arguments always seem to kill it: everyone should obey the same rules.”

Currently, cyclists have to follow the same traffic rules as drivers. That means they can get tickets for not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign, the same way drivers do. They don’t get demerits on their driver’s licences, but the fines are the same.

There are exceptions. For instance, since 2015, Ontario has had a law requiring drivers to stay at least one metre from cyclists when passing. Cyclists don’t have the same requirement when passing cars.

Go time for Idaho Stop?

The Idaho Stop lets cyclists treat stop signs differently than cars do. If there are no pedestrians or cars coming, then cyclists can slow down but not stop.

Idaho passed it in 1982 to keep cyclists from clogging up traffic courts, and other states have followed suit. Delaware passed it in 2017, Oregon and Arkansas in 2019 and Washington just last year.

“If you talk to people in those jurisdictions that have it, most users of the road probably don’t realize the law is different there,” Babin said.

Idaho and Arkansas also have laws letting cyclists treat red lights like stop signs – they can go if it’s clear.

A 2010 study by Jason Meggs of the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley found a 14.5-per-cent reduction in bicycle injuries the year after Idaho adopted the stop-sign law.

So why does the Idaho Stop make cycling less risky?

“Forcing every person on a bike to stop at every stop sign is unsafe,” said Colin Stein, executive director of the BC Cycling Coalition, in an e-mail.

If a cyclist stops at the curb, they could be “right-hooked” by cars turning right, Stein said. If they wait in the lane, they can face “verbal abuse, or even physical threats, from road users frustrated with having to wait behind a bicycle.”

Plus, it also encourages cyclists to take routes through residential neighbourhoods, which tend to have more stop signs, instead of more dangerous main roads.

“It keeps road safe for everybody, and it does make life a little bit easier for cyclists,” Babin says. “It’s not giving the cyclist the right to disobey the law – it’s not like they can just blow through every stop sign.”

Cycle logic?

Babin thinks cities and provinces should consider the Idaho Stop – on top of building more protected bike lanes and keeping them clear in the winter – to encourage more people to ride their bikes.

“I think some motorists are hard on cyclists because they feel like cyclists are getting special treatment in some way, but I don’t think there’s any evidence for that,” Babin said. “We’re not welcome on sidewalks, we’re not welcome on roads, and any small accommodation we get seems like special treatment.”

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