By Courtney Lowery, 2-03-10
Utah is the latest Rocky Mountain state to consider this sticky question: Should it be legal for cyclists to run red lights—after, of course, they’ve slowed and looked for cars?
It’s legal in Idaho for cyclists to do exactly that at stop signs and has been since 1982. And, it was on its way in Utah as well. Until the liability problem came up.
House Bill 91 failed on a tie vote in a House committee yesterday, with those lawmakers voting against it noting the liability problem. Rep. Tim Cosgrove says in today’s Salt Lake Tribune: “All things being equal, the burden of proof is on the motor vehicle operator because they’re required to carry liability insurance. So if something happens and someone’s hurt, they’re covered. Under this, bicyclists aren’t required to carry insurance.”
The bill would have, as it puts it, allowed cyclists to “after slowing to a reasonable speed and yielding the right-of-way if required, may cautiously make a turn or proceed through the intersection without stopping;”
The idea is to make it safer for cyclists to go through an intersection, considering that dismounting and stopping can seriously cut into the speed a cyclist needs to build to keep up in traffic in a city. Studies have shown in Idaho the law has helped cut down on bicycle injuries (see this piece in the Oregonian). In fact, the year after it was passed in Idaho, injuries dropped by 14.5 percent.
Oregon considered a similar law last year but it stalled in the legislature and Montana looked a “rolling-stop” bill in 2009 (see Bill Schneider’s piece on that bill here) but just like the Utah bill, it too died in committee.
The bill’s sponsor in Utah, Rep. Carol Spackman Moss of Salt Lake City, said this about the idea:
“It really comes down to common sense, I think, the fact that this would make it legal to do what many cyclists do already, and the public would then be educated,” Moss said. “As much as they say they should behave and they’re the same as cars, they’re not. A car is not the same as a bike. That’s why we have bicycle lanes.”
But, that question, about whether a bike is a car or a bike is a bike, is where a majority of the hand-wringing comes in in these issues. Even in 1982, when Idaho was first considering its rolling-stop law, that was at the crux. (See this great blog, by Bob Mionske on bicycle law, in which he details the history of the now historic 1982 Idaho law.)
So for now, Idaho remains the only state to allow that now-called “Idaho stop” at red lights for bicycles.