Idaho Has Surprising Progressive Traffic Laws for Bicycles

| Fri May 9, 2014 11:20 AM EDT

I've heard of the "California stop"—I live in California, after all—but I had no idea there was such a thing as an Idaho stop. But there is! It's for bicycles:

Idaho's rule is pretty straightforward. If a cyclist approaches a stop sign, he or she needs to slow down and look for traffic. If there's already a car or another bike there, then the other vehicle has the right of way. If there's no traffic, however, the cyclist can slowly proceed. Basically, for bikers, a stop sign is a yield sign.

If a cyclist approaches a red light, meanwhile, he or she needs to stop fully. Again, if there's any oncoming traffic, it has the right of way. If there's not, the cyclist can proceed cautiously through the intersection. Put simply, red light is a stop sign.

This doesn't mean that a cyclist is allowed to blast through an intersection at full speed — which is dangerous for pedestrians, the cyclist, and pretty much everyone involved. This isn't allowed in Idaho, and it's a terrible idea everywhere.

How about that? This comes from Joseph Stromberg, who says that Science™ is on Idaho's side:

If all this sounds far-fetched to you, look at the data. Public health researcher Jason Meggs found that after Idaho started allowing bikers to do this in 1982, injuries resulting from bicycle accidents dropped. When he compared recent census data from Boise to Bakersfield and Sacramento, California — relatively similar-sized cities with comparable percentages of bikers, topographies, precipitation patterns, and street layouts — he found that Boise had 30.5 percent fewer accidents per bike commuter than Sacramento and 150 percent fewer than Bakersfield.

I'm convinced. This actually sounds like a perfectly sensible rule to me. Blowing through intersections at top speed is obviously dumb, and you deserve every ticket you get if you do it. But bicycles are a lot slower than cars; a lot less dangerous than cars; and have a way better field of vision than cars. Allowing them to slow down but not stop for stop signs when no one is around makes perfect sense.

On the potato thing, though, Idaho needs to stand down. Let's all leave the nutritionists alone, OK?

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