O.K., I have a confession to make. I am a law breaker! Yesterday, for example, I blew through at least 5 stop signs. Why?
Because I was on a bicycle. Good excuse? Not legally. And as a New York Bicycle accident lawyer , I usually recommend that cyclists strictly adhere to the New York vehicle and traffic law. But come on! Is a cop really going to pull me over for rolling through a stop sign when I am on a bike!? Of course not. And am I endangering others (as a motorist does) when I roll through a stop sign without stopping? Of course not. So who am I endangering, if anyone? Only me. And actually, I don’t’ think I am endangering even myself! Let me explain.
The street I live on, Maxwell Ave, in Geneva, New York, is four blocks long. Each intersection is controlled by four-way stop signs. The City speed limit is 30 miles per hour. So when I take off for a ride down Maxwell, I don’t stop at these stop signs (unless cars are coming). Instead, I slow down a bit, and look to my left and right (twice!) and just keep going. It’s safe! Cars are going slowly, you can see them from far away, and they have to stop no matter which direction they are coming from, so there is plenty of time to react to them.
Why don’t I just obey the law and stop? In a word, “momentum”! We Cyclist never want to give up that momentum we have worked so hard to gain. But to fully comply with the New York stop-sign laws, we would have to apply our brakes, pull at least one clip out of the pedal, and put a foot on the pavement. And lose all that momentum!
Traffic laws were made for cars. In a car-free biking world, stop signs would not even exist. Cyclists can, and do, slow down, look both ways, and proceed through intersections without endangering each other.
Idaho has it right. Its stop-sign law, first made law in 1982, and then updated in 2005, allows cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs. If a biker looks, and no cars are coming, he or she is allowed slow down and roll through the stop sign. He or she is allowed to keep his or her hard-earned momentum!
Red lights are a different story. Stop! But stop signs, at least four-way ones, are different.
Unfortunately, New York (and the other 48 states) have not followed Idaho’s lead, although San Francisco, and a few States, are considering doing so .
Fortunately, police rarely ticket cyclists who safely roll through stop signs, at least not in upstate New York.
I don’t advocate careless, dangerous cycling. I see too many serious bicyclist injuries in bicycle-car collisions in my job as a New York personal injury lawyer. I am a strong advocate of safe biking practices. But let’s be real. Almost no cyclists I know come to full stops at all stop signs. Let’s make the law reflect reality in upstate New York.