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If passed, Assembly Bill 122 would allow bicyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs until January 1, 2028. Photo by Jordan P. Ingram
If passed, Assembly Bill 122 would allow bicyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs until January 1, 2028. Photo by Jordan P. Ingram
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California’s stop-as-yield law for cyclists has safety advocates divided

REGION — Assembly Bill 122, also known as the Bicycle Safety Stop bill, has passed all committees and could be coming up for a vote on the Senate floor as early as this week. If passed and subsequently signed into law, the statewide pilot program would allow bicyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs until January 1, 2028.

Currently, California state law states cyclists are “subject to all laws applicable to drivers of motor vehicles, including stopping at stoplights and stop signs.”

AB 122, introduced by Assemblymember Tasha Boerner Horvath (D-Encinitas), would align California law with that of seven other states by removing the requirement that a bike rider has to come to a complete stop at a stop sign if there is no other traffic present at the intersection.

The proposed legislation would still require cyclists to come to a complete stop at red-light traffic signals and cyclists must always yield the right-of-way to pedestrians.

“AB 122 is an important step to increase safety for all road users. We know from other states that when cyclists are allowed to yield at stop signs, they choose safer streets and will spend less time in dangerous intersections. It may seem counter-intuitive, but the data backs up this critical public policy,” said Horvath in an email interview.

Horvath has previously used a Delaware law adopted in 2017, known as the “Delaware yield,” which made it lawful for cyclists to yield at stop signs.

According to data collected by the Delaware State Police, crashes involving bicycles at stop-sign controlled intersections fell by 23% in the 30 months after the state made the change, contributing to an 11% overall decrease in bicycle-involved crashes.

“Changes in rules can be scary, but other states that have implemented this policy noticed decreases in bike-car collisions,” Horvath said. “In fact, since I introduced AB 122 earlier this year, three additional states have passed similar laws.”

Idaho legislators first adopted the “Idaho stop” law in 1982, allowing cyclists to treat a stop sign as a yield sign and a red light as a stop sign. In 2019, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed Act 650, permitting cyclists to slow down as they approach a stop sign and yield to right-of-way pedestrians and other traffic before moving through an intersection without stopping.

In March, Utah and North Dakota became the latest states to adopt stop-as-yield laws, joining Washington state and Oregon. Virginia is also considering adopting similar allowances for cyclists.

“AB 122 increases the predictability of cyclists for drivers, reducing bike-car collisions,” Horvath continued. “It also decreases the time cyclists spend in stop-sign-controlled intersections. This policy assures law-abiding cyclists come to a full and complete stop when another person or vehicle is present at an intersection.

“It is illegal now for cyclists to ‘blow through’ a stop sign, and it will continue to be illegal under AB 122. Yielding is defined in our current code, and AB 122 specifies how a cyclist yielding should interact with pedestrians and cars to increase safety of all road users.”

Supporters of the bill have also argued that many riders already yield at stop signs in California but are at risk of receiving a traffic violation if they do so. A review of public data from three major U.S. cities (Oakland, New Orleans and Washington D.C.) by Bicycling.com shows that Black and Hispanic riders are disproportionately stopped and fined for these types of violations.

“Everyone agrees that bicycling is good for our communities,” said Dave Snyder, executive director of the California Bicycle Coalition, the bill’s sponsor. “Yet we’re not doing enough to encourage people to ride bicycles and to make it safer. By removing unfair laws that turn otherwise law-abiding bike riders into lawbreakers and legalizing what most people on bikes are already doing, AB 122 moves us in that direction.”

Steve Barrow, program director for the California Coalition for Children’s Health and Safety, told The Coast News that they are strongly opposed to the bill and are urging voters against it.

“We have 500 people killed on bicycle crashes every year in California and we have several thousand that end up in the hospital with severe head injuries,” Barrow said. “The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Injury Center, they’ve all done studies on what happened when those people died in a bicycle crash, and a third of them literally were killed when the bicycle rider failed to yield at an intersection.”

Barrow added that for children, the risk is higher because portions of their brains that control their decision-making and impulse control are not yet fully developed.

“For an adult rider, it takes about four to five seconds to go across the average-sized intersection on a bicycle when you already have some momentum. It takes a child five to 10 seconds to ride across the intersection when they already have momentum,” Barrow said. “A car that’s a quarter of a block away from a child only takes three seconds to travel a quarter of a block before they’re in the intersection, even at 35 miles an hour. And so, if they’re driving distracted or they’re not paying attention, that’s a recipe for disaster right there.”

Additionally, a recent surge in e-bike popularity in Encinitas and across North County, particularly amongst younger riders, has raised concerns that less experienced riders may become confused by changing the meaning of long-established traffic signs.

“When you get a bill coming through that says, ‘Oh, we should change the meaning of stop signs and people can learn how to roll through a stop sign and vehicle drivers can learn how to pay attention and look down the road for a bicycle rider and realize that if there’s a stop sign the cyclist can just ride through’ – that’s not the way it works,” Barrow said. “Traffic safety laws and the bicycle signs are put into intersections because it’s a dangerous setting.”

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