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July 31, 2021

Will letting Utah cyclists run stop signs help or endanger them?

SALT LAKE CITY — A House committee debated whether it is safer for cyclists to come to a complete halt at stop signs or be allowed to just slow down as if it were a yield, ultimately agreeing to let the issue move on to the full chamber for a vote.

Sponsored by Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, HB142 would let cyclists treat a stop sign as a yield sign if there is no danger to themselves or others in the intersection that have the right-of-way.

“Cyclists know well, when they’re riding in the streets with other vehicles, that they will be the loser if they are reckless or dash out in front of the car and try to beat a car,” Spackman Moss said during Wednesday’s meeting of the House Transportation Committee.

Spackman Moss referred to her past as a cyclist having to stop at stop signs in some areas.

“It’s often dangerous, particularly if it’s on any kind of an incline because to get that momentum going again, it takes a lot of energy and then you see them kind of wobbling sometimes,” she said.

Acknowledging cyclists have been cited by police for not stopping at an empty intersection with a stop sign, Spackman Moss, who brought a similar bill in the past, defended it by saying it “would legalize what most cyclists do anyway, and not because they’re reckless, but because they want to have a smooth ride.”

Crys Lee, executive director of Bike Utah, referred to the Utah Department of Public Safety’s 2019 crash data showing 50% of bicycle and automobile crashes occurred when the car was turning right or left at an intersection. She said over the past 10 years, people on bikes were 30 times more likely to be involved in a crash at a stop sign than a yield sign.

“While many here may be concerned that invoking this vote would decrease cyclist safety, studies do support that it actually will improve bicycle safety,” Lee said.

Lee said safety information from Idaho and Delaware — where similar laws are referred to as the “Idaho stop” and “Delaware yield” — showed declines in cyclist injuries.

As a state agency given responsibility for safety on our roadways, we’re concerned that by adopting a bill that makes it legal to proceed through a stop sign will exacerbate safety at intersections; legalizing and normalizing the behavior that may not be safe.

–Linda Hull, Utah Department of Transportation director of policy and legislative services

But Linda Hull, director of policy and legislative services for UDOT, had her own view of crash data.

“You know, it’s great that people are riding their bikes more. It’s not great that we’re also seeing the rise in injuries and deaths, importantly, an increase in the rate (over the least three years),” Hull said.

Hull quoted UDOT’s statistics that 94% of bicycle injuries and deaths occurred in urban areas and 60% of injuries and deaths were at intersections.

“As a state agency given responsibility for safety on our roadways, we’re concerned that by adopting a bill that makes it legal to proceed through a stop sign will exacerbate safety at intersections; legalizing and normalizing the behavior that may not be safe,” Hull said.

But Rep. Raymond Ward, R-Bountiful, wondered if there was enough evidence either way.

“What if us forbidding this has in fact been a cause of some of the accidents instead of preventing them?” Ward asked. “Do you have evidence that it’s more dangerous? Does the statistics cited from the other states who have done this? Does that bear sway? How can we really know which is the safer way to do it? Or are we just guessing?”

Hull said “more digging” would be required to look at other states’ data concerning the issue.

“I think you would find very strong agreement from the bicycle community that intersections are a place that is dangerous to them. I don’t think anybody’s disputing that at all,” Ward said. “It just is a question of whether having to start and stop for a bicycle makes it more dangerous for them or not.”

Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, who voted against the bill, wondered why the change couldn’t apply to cars.

“It seems to me like one of your reasons for the exception here is that, if the intersection is clear … why not just let them glide through? Why couldn’t we apply that same exemption to vehicles?”

Brett Stuart brought up an issue of age limitations.

“I’m a believer in bicycles. I ride them. I’ve taught my kids I’ve taught my grandkids how to ride. This is probably an OK bill for adults that know how the rules work and how the laws work,” he said during the public comment portion of the hearing.

The committee considered amendments on age restrictions as well as excluding electric bikes and a sunset clause, but in the end HB142 was recommended 8-3 for consideration by the full House.

Hannah Petersen

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