House gives green light to allow bicycles to treat stop signs like yield signs

Critics argue that an exception for cyclists is dangerous.

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune) A bicyclist crosses 300 West in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021.

A bill to allow bicyclists to treat stop signs like yield signs — slowing without stopping, then looking and proceeding through if traffic is clear — glided through the House on Thursday, despite critics arguing that it is not safe.

HB142 advanced to the Senate on a 45-26 vote.

Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, the bill’s sponsor, said 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, often by drivers who fail to see them waiting.

She argued that cyclists will still be careful. “The cyclist is taking the bigger risk because if they make a mistake, they would likely lose their life. A car might get a dent or two.”

She said after Delaware passed a similar law in 2017, it saw a 27% drop in auto-bike crashes. Also, after Idaho passed the nation’s first such law in 1982, she said, it saw a 14% reduction in crashes the next year and accident rates remained flat since then.

But Rep. Casey Snider, R-Paradise, said farmers in his area halt at stop signs even though it is difficult for tractors and heavy machinery to do so — especially when they see no traffic coming — and says all traffic should do the same.

“It is an incredibly dangerous precedent, I believe, to create exemptions in the law,” he said. “If you don’t want to stop at an intersection, I would petition [the Utah Department of Transportation] or your community to make it a yield sign. … If we pass something for cyclists, I hope we do something even more important for farmers.”

Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, complained that “the same people who seem to advocate for liberal acceptance of cyclists are the same ones who sometimes” push restrictions on ATVs, as he said one town in his district banned them on its streets while trying to give more access to bicycles.

“I think there should be a uniform application,” Lyman said, “not as a single carve out for bicyclists.”

Rep. Mike Petersen, R-North Logan, a cyclist who said he been in numerous accidents on bikes at intersections, said, “We’ve known for years that safety is improved when we can safely slide through that intersection. … As much as it may be counterintuitive, evidence shows it is a worthy thing.”

Rep. Jeff Stenquist, R-Draper, another frequent cyclist, said it already is a common practice that is safe and not abused by bicyclists. “When you are on a bicycle, you’re not inside a car. You’ve got better vision, better hearing and you know that if there was a contest between you and a large vehicle … you’re going to lose.”

Previously at a committee hearing, the Utah Department of Transportation opposed the bill, arguing that it will “exacerbate safety at intersections, legalizing and normalizing a behavior that may not be safe.”

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.