Idaho Stop ‘Myth’

Background Reading


The statute reads:


  1. A person operating a bicycle or human-powered vehicle approaching a stop sign shall slow down and, if required for safety, stop before entering the intersection. After slowing to a reasonable speed or stopping, the person shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle in the intersection or approaching on another highway so closely as to constitute an immediate hazard during the time the person is moving across or within the intersection or junction of highways, except that a person after slowing to a reasonable speed and yielding the right-of-way if required, may cautiously make a turn or proceed through the intersection without stopping.
  2. A person operating a bicycle or human-powered vehicle approaching a steady red traffic control light shall stop before entering the intersection and shall yield to all other traffic. Once the person has yielded, he may proceed through the steady red light with caution. Provided however, that a person after slowing to a reasonable speed and yielding the right-of-way if required, may cautiously make a right-hand turn. A left-hand turn onto a one-way highway may be made on a red light after stopping and yielding to other traffic.
  3. A person riding a bicycle shall comply with the provisions of section 49-643, Idaho Code.
  4. A signal of intention to turn right or left shall be given during not less than the last one hundred (100) feet traveled by the bicycle before turning, provided that a signal by hand and arm need not be given if the hand is needed in the control or operation of the bicycle.

Andrew Bedno has a group on the ChainLink Forum whose stated mission is:

Group for support of implementing the “Idaho Stop” in Chicago, allowing cyclists to treat Stop signs as Yield.

I took a look at one of the first comments he made:

Comment by Andrew Bedno on May 31, 2011 at 9:12pm
Distantly related, allows crossing a red if it fails to detect your weight and change in a reasonable time. Sadly intended for motorcycles.

Like a good number of activists, there is more heat than light in their arguments as well as their understandings. Most of the cyclists who rant and rave about this or that thing they would like to see changed are frankly the kinds of kids I would have expected to get D’s and F’s in my Science classes. What they are good at is activism and not much else.

Most of the traffic light sensors in the United States work this way:

Understand how “demand-actuated” traffic signals work. These are traffic lights that will only turn green when a vehicle is sensed, usually to allow the vehicle to cross a street or make a left turn. At problematic traffic lights, look for a loop of wire buried in the pavement of the road near the stop line. This is called an “inductive-loop traffic detector” [2] that works somewhat like a metal detector, sensing any conductive metal (aluminum, steel, iron, etc.). Sometimes, these sensors are improperly designed or adjusted, so they don’t pick up on the presence of a smaller vehicle. These sensors do not detect the weight of a vehicle, but rather sense how much it disturbs an electromagnetic field. Once tripped, the signal will begin the light switching process using pre-programmed rules (within 30 seconds, usually less). “Bigger” or more noticable vehicles do not cause the light to turn quicker – your vehicle either trips the switch to begin the process or not. There are ways to make yourself more noticeable to prevent waiting indefinitely.

Bicycles Can Be As Lethal As Cars - Given the right target

Bicycles Can Be As Lethal As Cars – Given the right target

The Idaho Stop came into being in Idaho for very good reasons. If you have ever traveled out west you know that intersections can be miles apart and traffic frequency is quite low. Getting stuck at an intersection is pretty easy if the “inductive-loop” buried under the pavement is biased towards cars. When this happens a vehicle can sit for long periods of time without being able to proceed.

That sort of problem is not really the reason that Urban Cyclists have in mind for the use of this sort of law. Just about anywhere you ride in the City of Chicago the lights are easily triggered. What some cyclists are really aiming to do is to circumvent the need to wait at any intersection that they feel justified in crossing. For some inexplicable reason they have the notion that it is the God-given right to do what they want, when they want.

I have watched as cyclists and motorists alike simply violate the spirit of the Right Turn on Red rule by running a red light while making a right turn and nearly causing an accident with traffic proceeding from their left. I watched this happen tonight. If it had not been for the alertness of the driver who had the right-of-way it would have been a messy afternoon for somebody.

Just before witnessing that near collision I happened to have ridden past a very nasty collision between a motorcycle and a car just east of I-294 on Roosevelt Road. In the block that follows is a cemetery, how ironic. Any law that makes it easier for people to “hurry” whether on a bicycle or motorcycle or car is in my mind a trend in the wrong direction. But politicians have been known to do some rather stupid things to get re-elected or at least gather more campaign funds from lobbyists, so there is no telling what might happen.

But what is certain is that Urban Cyclists are not in need of some special consideration to make their already mad dash across the city just that much more rapid. Cyclists know (although they like to blather about how safe their sport is) that cycling is dangerous. There really is no denying that fact. Adding yield sign status to traffic controls is merely going to make the daredevil riders who are too reckless as it is all the more so.

If cyclists cannot be expected to avoid collisions on the LFP how are they going to be able to do so on busy streets? They barely look both ways as it is. And these same cyclists do not always have the decency when they strike one of their own to stop and see that the person is OK. Instead they continue on their merry way having looked back to notice the “accident” but behaving much like their automobile driver counterparts.

We need more controls on cyclists and motorists alike, not fewer. Safety has to be uppermost in our minds, not the convenience of an impatient few.

Updating The True Chicago Notion of an ‘Idaho Stop’

John Riley (on Facebook) pointed out that the original discussion on the Idaho Stop centered around stop signs. But when Chicagoans are clamoring for this kind of stop to make life easier for the Urban Cycling Community what they really mean is something that applies to traffic control stops instead. Stop signs are passé in Chicago. Yes we blow them left and right but they are usually on side streets so who really cares.

Ah, but stop lights is another matter entirely. Here we Urban Cyclists have a chance to really shine. There is now a well developed protocol for what should be dubbed the Idaho Stop Two-Step Variation. It looks like this:

Urban Cyclist "Idaho Stop" Two-Step Variation

Urban Cyclist “Idaho Stop” Two-Step Variation

Proper execution of this maneuver involves “not waiting” for traffic to disappear in the intersection. And it is best and most faithfully executed when the light just turned red upon your approach. Here are the steps:

  • You shoal between cars to reach the white line behind which all vehicles should be stopped to get in front of everyone
  • You hold a track stand (just for effect) long enough to look to your left to check for on-coming cars
  • You venture across the first three lanes sometimes between approaching cars
  • You execute another track stand in the left turn lane on the other side of the roadway
  • You now venture forward into the left turn lane while watching for on-coming traffic
  • When you can you execute a nifty U-Turn to situate yourself in the right turn lane
  • You then proceed to do a right turn (acting as if that was all you were doing) and sprint away from the scene of the crime

The clamor for an Idaho Stop has been conflated with the need to defend this blatant and unsafe intersection crossing practice. Do not let these scoundrels bamboozle you into supporting their real intent. Just imagine how many teenagers are going to want to mimic this “cool maneuver” having seen a twenty-something perform it while seating in the passenger seat of the family car. This is not something we need to codify in law.


  1. Non responsive red lights.

    I bought a 150 cc scooter a couple of years ago and took the motorcycle safty course. (Good advice for bikes too – look 12 seconds ahead is one thing that was taught.) We had a discussion of non-responsive traffic lights and were told that WI law says after waiting an appropriate time, I think, 45 seconds, and there is no indication that the light would change, a motorcyclist could proceed carefully through a red light.

    But we had a retired motorcycle cop as one of the instructors and he said you could only do this if nobody saw you which is certainly not likely. I think he just didn’t like the change in the law.

    Weight sensing door openers went away years ago, especially in northern US where lots of salt is spread in the winter. The early supermarket I worked at in 1957 had one. Also the North Shore Wheel and Sprocket in Fox Point, previously a supermarket, had a weight sensing door when they bought the place in maybe 2000, or so.

  2. Not certain how the ‘myth’ of traffic controls using weight sensors began. But it is a persistent and silly notion. Most of the work done by the young Albert Einstein was on a phenomenon that has made its way into sensors for both supermarkets and garage doors. A light beam is sent across a gap. If that beam is broken the sensor is activated and the door is either opened (in the case of the supermarket) or prevented from closing (which is actually an opening action in the case of your garage door.) That phenomenon was known as the PhotoElectric Effect.

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