HB155 was defeated in the 2011 Utah legislature. This bill would have allowed cyclists 18 years or older to treat stop signs as yield signs, similar to legislation that Idaho has had for 29 years. This year’s version of the bill did not include the 2010 version’s stop light provision that would have allowed cyclists to legally move through an unresponsive stop light. We also added the age restriction at the request of bicycle advocates. We had hoped a simpler, leaner bill might have been more to the legislatures liking. We were wrong.
There were a number of reasons that the legislators gave to turn back this bill but prominent among them was the comment uttered by Senate President Michael Waddoups during a Senate committee hearing in which he flatly stated that “there are a lot more irresponsible bikers out there than there are responsible bikers.” Most legislators contend this legislation would simply encourage cyclists to fly through stop signs and stop lights with impunity, ignoring the fact that the onus is on the bicyclist to confirm there is no coming cross traffic before entering the intersection. In their view, we are already irresponsible, this bill would just make us more so.
On the other hand our argument has been that the reason virtually all cyclists do not come to a full, dead stop at stop signs in which there is no incoming traffic is because we have learned it is the safest tactic and most energetically economical. The goal for all cyclists on the road is to avoid cars because when cars and bikes meet, we know who loses. My goal in approaching an empty intersection is to confirm it is indeed empty with no oncoming traffic and then to get across it before any cars do show up.
Another primary reason we cited in support of this bill was that continuous starts and stops which quieter and safer streets have due to their plethora of stop signs puts many cyclists on much busier, and inherently more dangerous, streets that have far fewer stop signs. Statistics tell us the most deadly of bicycle accidents occur when we are struck from behind by an approaching car. Riding on streets with lots of fast moving cars simply increases the odds that you will get hit and not see it coming.
Clearly the vast majority of the members of the legislature have little sympathy for the plight of cyclists on the roads. This bill, in their eyes, simply gave cyclists license for increased bad behavior. But perhaps we have gone after these bills the wrong way. Maybe we should be aiming at the bottom line of health care expenditures the state is responsible for. We know of the health benefits of a daily bike ride, do they? What is the ultimate cost to the health care systems from inactive, obese individuals versus active, healthy cyclists? Maybe this is an avenue of dialogue we can develop with the legislature to enhance their awareness and appreciation of the cycling community.