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The Idaho Stop

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Rolling through stop signs when it’s clear there are no other vehicles or pedestrians around is pretty much my only regularly practiced deviation from following the rules of the road I’m guilty of on my bike, and I’ve had some vague guilt about this, but not enough to stop when it’s clearly safe. Jason Stromberg makes a strong case for it:

There are even a few reasons why the Idaho stop might even make the roads safer than the status quo. In many cities, the low-traffic routes that are safer for bikes are the kinds of roads with many stop signs. Currently, some cyclists avoid these routes and take faster, higher-traffic streets. If the Idaho stop were legalized, it’d get cyclists off these faster streets and funnel the bikes on to safer, slower roads.

The Idaho stop, if legalized and widely adopted, would also make bikes more predictable. Currently, when a bike and a car both pull up to a four-way stop, an awkward dance often ensues. Even when cars get there first, drivers often try to give bikers the right-of-way, perhaps because they think the cyclist is going to ride through anyway.

If the cyclist logically waits, both parties end up sitting there, urging the other to go on. In the opposite (and rarer) scenario, both people assume the other will wait, leading to a totally unnecessary accident.

An Idaho stop would put an end to this madness: the first vehicle to come to the intersection always has the right of way, giving bikers a rule they’d actually follow, making them more predictable for drivers.

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 still trying to process the possibility that there may be a public policy question that 49 states get wrong, and the one state that doesn’t is Idaho.

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