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In an "Idaho Stop" context, what is the best thing to do for a cyclist approaching a 4-way stop at the same time as a vehicle approaching from another direction? Should the cyclist

  • Proceed through the intersection without slowing down, while the car is coming to a stop?
  • Slow down, but roll through the intersection without stopping, going before the vehicle (because the vehicle has to stop)?
  • Stop at the stop sign and then go before the car?
  • Stop at the stop sign, then decide right-of-way according to the vehicle rules (which one got there first, breaking ties by who is to the right of the other vehicles)?

My state, Arkansas, passed an "Idaho Stop" law in 2019, so I’d like to hear from other cyclists in other, more mature Idaho stop contexts.

If it’s relevant, my reading of the Arkansas law seems to indicate that cyclists are not obligated to stop at a stop sign except to avoid a collision.

Relevant Bill Text

27-51-1803. Entering stop or yield intersection. (a)(1) A person operating a bicycle approaching a stop sign shall: (A) Slow down; (B) If required to avoid an immediate hazard, stop at the stop sign before entering the intersection; and (C) Cautiously enter the intersection and yield the right of-way to pedestrians lawfully within an adjacent crosswalk and to other traffic lawfully using the intersection. (2) If a person operating a bicycle meets the requirements provided in subdivision (a)(1) of this section, he or she may cautiously make a right or left turn, or proceed through the intersection without stopping at the stop sign. (b)(1) A person operating a bicycle approaching a steady red traffic control light shall: (A) Make a complete stop at the steady red traffic control light before entering the intersection; and (B) Yield the right-of-way to all oncoming traffic that constitutes an immediate hazard during the time that he or she is moving across or within the intersection. (2) If a person operating a bicycle meets the requirements as provided in subdivision (b)(1) of this section, he or she may proceed through the steady red traffic control light with caution. (3) However, a person operating a bicycle may make a: (A) Right-hand turn at a steady red traffic control light without stopping after slowing to a reasonable speed and yielding the right of-way, if required, to oncoming traffic that constitutesan immediate hazard; or (B) Left-hand turn onto a one-way road at a steady red traffic control light after stopping and yielding to oncoming traffic that constitutes an immediate hazard.

Full Bill Text

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    You have to stop if there is immediate hazard, otherwise just slow down. I'll leave it to a lawyer chime and define what 'immediate hazard' means in the legislation.
    – mattnz
    Jun 25 at 23:39
  • Hi, welcome to bicycles. This may not be the best forum for this question, since the audience here is international, and the answer to your question is very much about the local interpretation of the law. Also bear in mind that when soliciting legal advice from the Internet, it's frequently worth what you pay for it.
    – DavidW
    Jun 26 at 1:35
  • This might be better on law.stackexchange.com because its only tangentially about bicycles and predominantly about a law.
    – Criggie
    Jun 26 at 2:47
  • 2
    The answer depends if you would be OK if your tombstone was engraved "I was killed in a road accident, but it was my right of way" or if you prefer to stay alive.
    – alephzero
    Jun 26 at 11:34
  • 2
    Laws of physics trump laws of nations. Maybe we should refer these types of legal questions to physics.stackexchange :)
    – mattnz
    Jun 26 at 22:50
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My reading of the law seems to indicate that cyclists are not obligated to stop at a stop sign except to avoid a collision

I find your reading of the law incorrect.

Even if we ignore (a)(1)(B), which says "If required to avoid an immediate hazard, stop at the stop sign before entering the intersection", i.e. we decide to agree (even though I don't) that another vehicle approaching the intersection doesn't constitute an "immediate hazard", subdivision (a)(1)(C) says this:

Cautiously enter the intersection and yield the right of-way to pedestrians lawfully within an adjacent crosswalk and to other traffic lawfully using the intersection. [emphasis mine]

This is consistent with how "Idaho Stop" laws are generally written. I.e. the law allows a cyclist to roll through the intersection without coming to a complete stop only when there is no other conflicting traffic. If there is any other conflicting traffic, then the usual rules of right of way apply, including the requirement to stop.

A technically literal reading of the law could be construed as to mean that you may fail to stop, provided you still yield right of way as necessary. But I find this reading convoluted and unnecessary. After all, if you fail to stop, you've already also potentially failed to yield right of way (assuming some other traffic has right of way over you), and even if you haven't right at that moment, you then could wind up halfway or all the way in the intersection still obligated to yield right of way.

At the very least, that situation has "extremely dangerous" written all over it, and it's highly unlikely it's what the legislature envisioned when they passed the law, and highly unlikely the way a judge is going to interpret the law if you get charged under the law.

Never mind the fact that as a vulnerable road user, it never makes sense to assert right of way unless you are absolutely sure you can keep it without getting crushed by another vehicle.

So, back to your question…

what is the best thing to do for a cyclist approaching a 4-way stop at the same time as a vehicle approaching from another direction?

No question about it, the best thing to do is come to a complete stop, and then proceed by the normal right-of-way rules.

First, you may not have right of way anyway (e.g. you and the other vehicle are arriving at the same time, and the other vehicle is to your right), in which case you are obviously required by law to stop.

Beyond that however, you have no idea whether the other vehicle is in fact going to honor the stop sign. It would be extremely foolish to just roll through the stop when you already know for sure there's some other vehicular traffic that has not yet actually stopped at the intersection (in your scenario, it obviously hasn't stopped yet, because if it had stopped before you had to make this decision, you'd already know you don't have right of way and are required to stop in any case, since you arrived at the intersection after the other traffic).

I contend that by law, you are in fact required to stop. But even if you read the law otherwise, stopping is still by far the wiser course of action.

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