How Many Cycling Countries Use The Idaho Stop Law?

Background Reading



As it turns out the closest we come to finding a use of the Idaho Stop Law anywhere else on the planet is in Canada. This is certainly not a law that has any momentum that I was able to find in places like Amsterdam and Copenhagen.

Perhaps this stems from the fact that the law really has no basis in anything other than personal convenience.

In fact the push here in the U.S. is not borne out of some significant uptick in injuries and deaths (due to its lack) but rather because a cultural norm has been established which defies the very reasoning behind the use of bicycle infrastructure.

When the debate in Chicago erupted a few years ago about the need for spending money (it turns out we did not have and desperately needed for something as trivial as schools) on bike lanes the argument was made by Ron Burke of Active Transportation Alliance that providing infrastructure would impose order on the streets (between cars and bicycles) which we eliminate the need for cyclists to disregard the Rules of the Road.

But that notion has proved a bit premature. If anything cyclists have become more brazen about ‘amber gambling‘ through the midst of pedestrians crossing in protected crosswalks. In fact one of the most dangerous maneuvers which is to race for an intersection but having lost the light to continue on through (rather than grabbing the brakes) is so very common that bicycle club presidents are remarking about their near misses on the internet. I hear you and I am worried.

Relaxing laws only encourages those with low thresholds to sociopathic behaviors to indulge themselves. And certainly any excuse to roll through a stop sign invites a dangerous interaction between bicyclists and pedestrians at that one point where the pedestrians should be considered the ‘most vulnerable‘.

Bicycle Heaven Has Not Taken Up The Cudgel

You might think that any trends toward ‘safer cycling‘ would have long ago been adopted by the folks in Bicycle Heaven. They do not (as a rule) use helmets in either Copenhagen or Amsterdam. But they do observe their Rules of the Road. Why is it that Americans feel the need to seek legitimacy for their unlawful behavior regarding the observance of stop signs and red lights when the Europeans take these things in stride?

My guess is that the culture there is a bit more ‘conservative‘ when it comes to collective behavior. Yanks are nothing if not iconoclasts. And frankly bicycling has morphed from something beautiful and cool into an excuse to make a statement about things which have absolutely nothing to do with transportation.

The very idea that a Canadian would use the excuse to enact the Idaho Stop Law on the basis that bicycles are momentum-driven forms of transportation is ludicrous. Every single form of transportation (including running and walking) is more efficient if you do not have to stop-and-start. Astoundingly little gasoline energy can be expended during a cross country race if you simply travel slowly enough to avoid having to stop.

Everyone who races any kind of vehicle knows this. So why have the Luddites of the bicycle world suddenly seized upon this as if it were something just discovered by physicists who have begun to ride bicycles?

Too Much Energy Is Spent Dissembling

Right now the vast majority of what passes as ‘critical thinking‘ in the Urban Cycling Movement is spent trying to find rational reasons for breaking the law. And should the right to treat stop signs as yield signs ever pass, the next move will be to pass legislation (for bicycles only) to avoid ever having to stop at a stop light.

They will attempt to do this by reducing the number of second that a cyclist will need to wait before proceeding to something like 5 seconds and have that time be included in the ‘coast up‘ to the intersection.

Why not just admit at the outset that where traffic laws are concerned we cyclists have no intention whatsoever of obeying the laws that inconvenience us. We will strenuously fight against the idea that there should ever be a Bicycling Under The Influence law on the books. And that will be an effort just behind our attempts to avoid having to be licensed or regulated just the same as everyone else.

We should simply all don pirate t-shirts and sport the skull-and-crossbones from flagpoles on our frames to let everyone know that ours is the position once held by motorcycle gangs.

The big problem however is that the number of pedestrians struck and killed by bicyclists will continue to climb. And we will deflect (something we are very good at) the criticisms of the behaviors that resulted in these deaths by pointing to the greater number caused by inattentive motorists.

Chicago's Cycling Movement Issues A Leftist Manifesto

Chicago’s Cycling Movement Issues A Leftist Manifesto

But the moment a law is offered up to have headphones and earbuds outlawed when operating a bicycle or for that matter reading our cellphones while riding one or no handed in the Door Zone, we will have a collective hissy fit and run for cover.

The people who are most responsible for what will happen are currently serving as either politicians whose short-sighted efforts to attract young white tech workers to Chicago will dim over time and the folks who are making their living as bicycle advocates. The latter are a bit like politicians as well. The find out which way the political wind is blowing and then launch a fundraiser to catch the windfall.

Currently the bicycle advocacy leadership in Chicago has determined that the climate is not right for the passage of an Idaho Stop Law here in Illinois. And they have gone on record in various forums with that assessment.

But should it turn out that they were wrong, they will launch themselves into the media firestorm as the ones who were supposedly pressing for the idea so as to gain maximum respect from those silly enough (or ill-formed enough) to not be aware of their recalcitrance. This is a bit like being a weatherman who projected a fair day of weather, but upon discovering that a tornado was bearing down on us all, suddenly leaps forward with a ‘reminder‘ of his previous warnings of bad weather. Yeah, right!