Bicyclists heading into intersections where no vehicles are approaching may soon treat stop signs as yields if the Utah Senate agrees to a bill approved by the House on Thursday.
The House voted 48-20 for HB91, which also allows cyclists to proceed through a red light after a complete stop if that light is rigged with a weight sensor that would change it to green if a car stopped on it.
Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, modeled the legislation after Idaho's law and said it helps improve safety for cyclists and should also reduce animosity between motorists and cyclists. Rolling through stop signs when the coast is clear already is common practice for those who either don't want to work to rebuild speed or don't want to take their eyes off the road to click out of pedal clips, Moss said.
Many bike commuters choose routes with little traffic, which often means extra stops, she said. Continuing through the stops when there's no approaching traffic makes sense and is common, she said, but can anger others who see them and think they're getting away with something.
"They resent being yelled at, sworn at, having things thrown at them and in general being considered scofflaws when in fact what they're doing is safest for them," Moss said.
Others questioned the safety and said the changes could teach dangerous habits to children.
"We're asking for problems, injuries and potentially fatalities if we pass this bill," said Rep. Wayne Harper, R-West Jordan.
Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, said intersections are dangerous places and it won't help to treat various modes of transportation differently. He said he could also make a case for exempting semitrailers from stopping because they have to downshift over a distance, but such an exemption would be unsafe.
"If you're on the road, act like you're on the road," he said.
Rep. Don Ipson, R-St. George, said he cycled 3,000 miles last year and believes it is safer for cyclists to continue through stops when there's no cross traffic. Rep. Mel Brown, R-Coalville, said he doesn't cycle but his wife rides about 15 miles a day and she has sometimes struggled with the pedal clips while trying to stay upright at stops. Requiring a stop when there's no traffic is unnecessary, Brown said.
HB91 previously failed to advance in a House committee, but got a second chance when Moss removed a provision allowing cyclists to treat red lights as stop signs regardless of whether they were equipped with weight sensors.
Lawmakers on Thursday rejected a proposed amendment to legalize another common practice among cyclists: pulling up alongside cars on the right-hand side at stops. Most cyclists do it, said Rep. Todd Kiser, R-Sandy, and it's safe so long as the bicycle isn't far enough forward to impede right turns. But Rep. Ron Bigelow, R-West Valley City, said it creates a hazard that motorists aren't used to guarding against. Some Democrats also opposed the amendment in a voice vote.
Moss didn't take a stand on the amendment during the debate, but later said she had worried that it might be viewed as heaping too many changes in one bill and could sink her proposal. She also noted some difference of opinion about the practice among cyclists, but said the bill still could be amended to include it in the Senate.