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How Did H.B. 155 (The Idaho Stop Law) Die in Utah? And What Can We Do Better Next Time?

Last Thursday, H.B. 155 was killed in an 11-11 senate vote. Bike advocate John Weis was watching the debates carefully and has this report for us:

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.

Creative Commons License photo credit: juplife

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  1. I think that John is pretty correct in his evaluation, but in reality, for the second time in a row, it failed to pass by one single vote. I don’t think the opposition is as overwhelming as stated. The health care angle is certainly one we can and should point out, but what may get their attention even more is the economic impact of cycling in the State. Money talks the loudest.

  2. Brad, my understanding was that it needed a super majority (2/3 approval) to pass. Even so, we were still pretty darn close!

    I like the idea of focusing on the economic impact too.

    I also think that we just need to get out the word earlier and louder. We needed more people calling their senators directly.

    1. A super-majority should have been needed only if it were necessary to override a governor’s veto — I don’t, however, have any idea of what his attitude towards this bill might have been — so perhaps it WOULD have required 2/3rds.

  3. If the bill had had one more vote in the Senate this year or last, it would have moved on to the Gov’s desk for his consideration.

    Money is always a good strategy but it was not the easiest to incorporate into the reasoning of why they should have passed this bill. I don’t think we could have made the argument that having a rolling stop will bring tourist bike riders into the state or keep locals on their bikes. Safety and smooth traffic flow continue to be the best arguments (as evidenced by Idaho’s law) but they just don’t sway legislators.

    OF COURSE, the best way to influence a politician is to tell them how you would like for them to vote, and give them your own reasons. Even the three foot law of a few years ago took an amazing state wide turnout of cyclists on the phone, email and in person to have that bill squeak by. And really, how controversial can a damn three foot bill be anyway? So for HB155 or any other bill like it to pass, these Rep’s and Senators need to hear over and over and over and over again how we want them to vote. Otherwise the insurance companies and other nay sayers take center stage.

  4. John, is Rep. Moss going to run it again next year? I think we can be a bit better prepared to flood the phone lines and inboxes next time around.

  5. Brad, she says no. Sen Niederhauser may. I don’t know if it should be tried again next year. Two years in a row it failed, and to bring it back a third year in a row may create backlash from the house/senate. We may be better off waiting a full year, and then decide to go back in with a full effort from the bike community.

    MUCH MORE IMPORTANT is the the cycling community to get together and take a real stand that provides a uniform voice. If cyclists want this bill, then they need to band together and present themselves as a unified, cohesive force. This would be a role that your organization along with Bike Utah (formerly the Utah Bicycle Coalition) and others could take on for the next 18 months and then come back with another bill would be feasible. But at this time, it may be a waste of time for the 2012 session.

  6. I’ve been working on trying to get this passed in Oregon for about 5 years. The Bicycle Transportation Alliance in Portland has quite a bit of information that could be helpful to you next time around. Unfortunately I became aware of your efforts rather late in the game. If someone who is planning to keep this effort going could get in touch with me directly I’d be happy to coordinate our efforts. One thing that I think will really help is if any one other state can get the law, after that I think it will be easier to spread it to other places because they can’t say there is something “special” about Idaho that makes it work there.

    Bjorn Warloe

    1. Bjorn,

      It would be great to get that information. Could you email it over to BikeProvo so we can distribute it to others?

  7. While it is a disappointing loss, UT bikers need to express their continued support of those who voted for it AND let those who voted against it feel the pain at the polls…

    Just strategizing about how to pass the law in the future without showing legislators there are consequences for their votes will not be a successful effort…

    jaded in DC

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