22

I've been bike commuting in the East Bay Area of California (5mi/day, plus public transport) for a few weeks now.

I recently attended an in-class safety course, where I learned the fine for not stopping at a stop sign is $250, AND a point on your drivers license (some people were there to remove this point, so people do get cited).

Since then, I've been mostly obeying the stopping laws. But, another takeaway of that class was the importance of predictability.

I feel like stopping puts me in danger when I seem to be the only one to do it. If no one expects me to stop, I am worried about bikes and cars not properly anticipating it, and my being involved in a collision. I know, it wouldn't be my fault legally, but it sort of is my fault because I'm knowingly being unpredictable by stopping, yet do it anyway. And of course, it doesn't matter who was right, I don't want anyone to get hurt!

My plan is just to continue to stop, per the law, but I thought I'd check with you all. I don't have enough experience to know whether this is a valid concern.

Thanks!

(Idaho Stop: Treating stop signs as yields, and less pertinent to this question, stop lights as stop signs.)

  • 3
    Well I would like to be on the side of the law and the truck doing 40 mph on the cross street that does expect me to stop. – paparazzo Aug 20 '15 at 22:33
  • 2
    @StephenTouset And so is that truck doing 40 mph. – paparazzo Aug 20 '15 at 22:46
  • 3
    To OP, yes, you can get a ticket. But the odds of getting a ticket are vanishingly thin. That said, you should ride in whatever manner makes you safest. I tend to go with the Idaho Stop, because I believe it isn't inherently any less safe (especially when other cyclists who may be behind you expect you to behave similarly). That said, I will always let a car go if they have the right of way (not to mention if they don't, if it looks like they'll go anyway). – Stephen Touset Aug 20 '15 at 22:48
  • 4
    What the flip is an "Idaho stop"? – TRiG Aug 21 '15 at 9:13
  • 2
    @MichaelHoffman I have never in my life (which has included 12+ years of living in towns where a large proportion of the population cycles) seen any cyclist use the "I'm stopping" signal on the road in the UK. I doubt anyone would know what it means: if I start waving my arm around, people will assume I'm making some kind of emphatic turn signal. Also, it's a dumb signal: I'd rather use my hands for braking. – David Richerby Aug 21 '15 at 12:35
27

When it comes to stop signs, I live by some simple rules:

  1. If it's a multi-way stop and there's another car waiting or just arriving, I stop.
  2. If I can't clearly see or judge what I'm riding into, I stop.
  3. If it doesn't feel right for some reason, I stop.
  4. If there's a cop there (or a history of cops), I stop.

I don't necessarily clip out and put my foot down, but I stop. These rules have worked for me pretty well. But one thing I've never worried about is my safety, when I stop. I've easily ridden 100,000 miles on the roads, including the East Bay, in all kinds of conditions. I don't think I've ever been in a situation where I felt less safe stopping than not stopping. There are plenty of things out there to worry about, but that isn't one of them.

  • 1
    I think this is the best answer. The only normal worry for cars is if you are taking the lane and they only slow down enough to stop at the sign, not enough to stop one bike length behind it. If you are a bike in a pack, you should have ways to communicate that you are going to stop. If there is an unknown bike behind you, a hand signal is a good idea. The chance of an unknown bike behind you who doesn't notice you slowing down is small, probably smaller than the chance a car will run the stop sign the other way. – Ross Millikan Aug 21 '15 at 3:43
  • Of course there are parts of the country where no one stops at stop signs, and they often don't even slow down. – Daniel R Hicks Aug 21 '15 at 12:27
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    @RossMillikan - If there's a bike behind me I don't rely on hand signals. I yell out "Stopping!" in a loud voice. – Daniel R Hicks Aug 21 '15 at 12:28
  • 1
    I don't think I've ever been in a situation where I felt less safe stopping than not stopping. I like this! And overall, the accepted answer, thanks! – arichards Aug 21 '15 at 15:10
  • @DanielRHicks Do you also turn your head so as to direct your exclamation at them? Because otherwise, the sound might not bounce off much and they might just hear a shout but not know what it was. – Michael Aug 21 '15 at 18:23
15

I'm not sure why you think it puts you in danger.

My rule of thumb is that I will only do the Idaho stop when I can see all the roads at an intersection far enough to know that a car won't show up before I get through the intersection and I can't see any cars.

I've been riding in the East Bay for 15+ years and I've never felt like my stopping at stop signs has endangered me in any way. The most dangerous part of your ride is always going through the intersection, not what happens before or after.

In general the less urban parts of the East Bay are cycling friendly, but if you go by the rule of invisiblity1, I think you'll be fine.

FWIW, there is an effort to make the Idaho stop legal in California that has fairly serious backing in the legislature.


1 Rule of invisiblity: Never assume a car will see you and yield the right of way. The traffic laws may be on your side, but the laws of physics are not.

  • 2
    "I'm not sure why you think it puts you in danger" - it put me in danger once. I was driving on a bike lane, nearing a large intersection with a red bike traffic light, and stopped somewhat suddenly. The bike behind me almost piled onto my back. I realize that my own behavior was suboptimal that time. But in the general case, if the guy behind you assumes you'll be zipping through the intersection at your highest speed, stopping is dangerous. And if that's the default behavior of bikers in the area, the OP's fear is well founded. – rumtscho Aug 21 '15 at 10:16
  • @rumtscho If you think your experience is relevant to the question then you should post it as an answer where people can vote on it. – ChrisW Aug 21 '15 at 10:24
  • 1
    @ChrisW I saw it as relevant to your answer. The OP says "there is danger in both choices, which is the better", you say "I don't see danger in stopping, so you should always stop", I confirmed that there is danger in stopping. I cannot say myself if stopping is better than non-stopping, so I don't have an answer, just a comment that the premise of the question is not as wrong as your answer represents it. – rumtscho Aug 21 '15 at 10:37
  • I was trying to think of why it would be dangerous wrt cars, not other cyclists. – Fred the Magic Wonder Dog Aug 21 '15 at 14:41
  • @FredtheMagicWonderDog Around here, it seems cars don't stop at stop signs either! If they habitually do not prepare to stop at a sign, and they know bikers habitually do not stop, I think there is risk of an accident when a biker does actually stop! I hope that example helps. (Ah, assuming I'm taking the lane, too). – arichards Aug 21 '15 at 15:00
8

Stop.

Or at least slow down a lot, so that you look like you're taking care.

Such signs are not really cyclist friendly. But if you don't take any notice of them then it reinforces the negative view many of the motor vehicle drivers have of us. Also, police officers generally have some discretion. It's only if they're bored or what you do is particularly blatant that they'll take the time to book you.

If you are doing what the sign says, I think that's behaving predictably.

For other's reference: Idaho stop.

7

Many or most other cyclists don't stop: but, other cyclists can get into 'accidents'.

One advice, if there's a car or bike behind me then I use a hand signal (in lieu of a brake light) to indicate that I am about to slow to a stop.

Unusually once on my commuting route (in Toronto), there was some bicycle police (who were giving traffic tickets to any cyclists who weren't stopping at a four-way stop sign). I figured that these police, being professional city cyclists themselves, could answer my question and so I asked one of them,

How much stop do you want to see, in a bicycle?

I wanted to know whether he expected to see a dead stop, or a rolling stop. His answer was,

Intersections are the most dangerous place when you're a cyclist. I see cyclists blowing through a stop sign without even looking. What I want to see is people looking, before they enter an intersection: so look, both ways! Twice! And if you see a policeman, then come to a complete stop.

I thought that was a really good answer, explaining the reason for the law, not just repeating the letter of the law.

  • So, primarily: Look both ways (twice), before you enter the intersection. If you have to slow down or stop in order to have enough time to take a good look, well them's the breaks.
  • Secondarily: If you wouldn't even notice a policeman you weren't looking hard enough; and if you do see a policeman and don't come to a complete stop, then you're just making their job harder.
  • 6
    Intersections are the most dangerous place when you're a cyclist. This should be in bold 40 pt font. Novice cyclists seem to worry most about cars overtaking, but by far and away most bike/car accidents are side impacts at intersections. – Fred the Magic Wonder Dog Aug 21 '15 at 14:44
  • @FredtheMagicWonderDog - But many, perhaps most intersection accidents involve a bike with the right-of-way and no stop sign/light. – Daniel R Hicks Aug 22 '15 at 12:29
  • @DanielRHicks I once posted on Skeptics.SE to reference an old study of motorcycle accidents. It said that it was usually the driver's fault (e.g. the driver not seeing the motorcycle and turning across their right of way) however that the motorcyclist often contributed somehow (e.g. not wearing goggles and so squinting into the wind, travelling fast, no headlight on in the day time, no evasive manoeuvre nor even putting their brakes on etc.): i.e. I'm not surprised if it's often the driver's fault with a cyclist, even so a cyclist might be able to avoid that (e.g. by looking for eye contact). – ChrisW Aug 22 '15 at 12:37
  • @ChrisW - And, of course, the most dangerous intersection is a sidewalk crossing a driveway. Even when it's technically legal to ride on the sidewalk it's extremely dangerous to do so, both because of the driveways and because the cyclist tends to continue across intersecting roadways where approach riders may or may not notice you. Far safer to ride in the street. – Daniel R Hicks Aug 22 '15 at 12:45
4

If you don't want to break the law... stop. If you want people driving cars and trucks to respect you... stop. If you don't want to risk a minor mistake of attention getting a cyclist killed... stop. If you are riding your bicycle to get exercise... stop.

Just because you are pedaling your ass somewhere does not give you the right to run stop signs.

Just because other people don't stop at stop signs, that does not give you the right to run stop signs.

Get the laws changed, until then, stop.

  • I appreciate the reply, very logical and sort of empowering for me to obey the law and stay safe without feeling... weird at all :) – arichards Aug 21 '15 at 15:08

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