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This is the second installment of our bicycle safety series, an ongoing series meant to inform and educate CU residents about how to bike safely and legally.

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I. On stopping

Failure to stop at lights and stop signs is one of the biggest causes of accidents for bikes as well as automobiles. With bikes, though – as any driver in CU can attest, running stoplights and stop signs is a constant and perennial problem.

The relative difficulty of again reaching cruising speed on a bike after coming to a full stop is probably the reason that many cyclists are unwilling to come to a complete stop. Though both Champaign and Urbana have significant bicycle infrastructure, its roads and traffic laws, like those in most of the US, are still primarily designed with cars in mind.

II. On stopping in CU

In Champaign and Urbana, bikes must obey all laws that motor vehicles must.  This means coming to a complete stop at both stop signs and stoplights.  Rolling “stops”, i.e. treating stop signs and stoplights as yield signs, is considered a traffic violation in both cities.

One interesting point about stopping is that under Illinois law, if you’re on a bike at a stoplight and that not change because the sensor has not been activated, you’re legally allowed to proceed “after a reasonable amount of time.”  This is, of course, after coming to a complete stop and waiting.  So if you’ve ever wondered if you were running a stoplight after waiting there for three minutes with no change – you’re safe!  Make sure, of course, to check that the road is clear!

III. On other approaches to stopping

Recognizing the difference between bikes and cars and the need for regulations that take this into account, in 1983 Idaho passed legislation changing how bicyclists can treat stop signs and stoplights.  This law has two parts:

  1. Cyclists may treat stop signs and yield signs. That is: cyclists only must slow down and look to make sure the intersecting road is clear before continuing on their merry way.
  2. Cyclists may treat stoplights as stop signs.  That means cyclists have to stop and, if no one’s coming, may go without waiting for the light to change back to green.

This sort of traffic law is now commonly known as the Idaho stop and is still relatively uncommon in the US, despite some more recent calls for its passing.  Opinion on the matter, though, is divided.  That said, studies have suggested that implementation of laws like the Idaho stop actually serves to foster a safer biking community and minimize accident rates.

(For a more detailed analysis, check out the League of American Cyclists’ post on the subject.)

Let us know what you think! Should CU adopt the Idaho stop?

Check back with us weekly for new additions to our bike safety series, including a post showing those intersections where most bike accidents occur.

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