For Utah bicyclists, stop signs soon may not mean stop — but rather slow, look and go if clear

Bill advances on an 8-3 vote, but transportation officials and cycling groups disagree on its potential impact on safety.

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) A bicyclist rides in downtown Salt Lake City on Aug. 1, 2018. A House committee advanced a bill Wednesday that would allow bicyclists to treat stop signs like yield signs.

Bicyclists may soon be able to treat stop signs as if they are yield signs — slowing, looking and proceeding through if traffic is clear, instead of coming to a full stop.

The House Transportation Committee advanced HB142 to make that change on an 8-3 vote Wednesday, and the full House will now consider it. But state transportation officials and bicycle groups disagree whether it will improve or worsen safety.

Rep. Carol Moss, D-Holladay, the bill’s sponsor, says it would improve safety by allowing cyclists to keep up some momentum and proceed quickly through intersections — where cyclists are most often hit by cars.

“Studies indicate that the revisions proposed today will increase safety for cyclists and reduce incidence of crashes at intersections,” said Chrys Lee, executive director of Bike Utah.

She said after Delaware passed a similar law in 2017, it saw a 27% decrease in crashes between bikes and cars. She said after Idaho passed the nation’s first such law in 1982, it saw a 14% reduction in crashes the next year and accident rates remained flat afterward.

Moss added that Colorado, Arkansas, Oregon and Washington have recently enacted similar laws with arguments that it will improve safety.

But Linda Hull, director of legislative and government affairs at the Utah Department of Transportation, said state official believe it will make safety worse.

She said state data show 60% of bicycle accidents occur at intersections, and 94% of all accidents occur in daylight hours. “So that tells us that there’s a visibility problem for bicyclists. Drivers just don’t see them even in daylight hours and especially at intersections.”

Hull added, “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 a behavior that may not be safe.”

Moss argued that almost all cyclists believe it is safer to keep moving through intersections if they are clear, and most do that even though it is now illegal.

“Any cyclist knows they have to be cautious, or it’s their life or injury. They are the one who is going to be hurt, not the person in the vehicle,” she said.

Moss has unsuccessfully pushed similar legislation for years — including passing it through the House in 2019 before it died in a Senate committee.

She made a major change to her proposal this year. The previous version of the bill also would have allowed cyclists to treat red lights as if they were blinking yellow lights, and also to proceed with caution if they were clear. She said that proved to be too controversial, so she is now addressing only stop signs.