Photo courtesy Washington Bikes
Tracy Codd: Washington State bicyclists now allowed to yield at stop signs rather than come to complete stop
In October of this past year, the Washington Legislature changed the basic rules of the road for people riding bicycles. Bicycle riders may now treat most stop signs as yield signs.
In most circumstances, bicyclists can now slow down, look all ways for safety, and then proceed through the stop sign without coming to a complete stop. This is slightly different than a “California Stop”, which is used to describe a driver (or bicyclist) who rolls through a stop sign without stopping or disregards the stop sign completely and proceeds through without slowing or stopping.
The law went into effect on October 1, 2020.
There are exceptions:
- Railroad Crossings: “A person operating a bicycle approaching a stop sign located at a highway grade crossing of a railroad must follow the requirements of RCW 46.61.345.” RCW 46.61.190(b)(ii).
- School Buses: “A person operating a bicycle approaching a ‘stop’ signal in use by a school bus, as required under RCW 46.37.190, must follow the requirements of RCW 61.61.30.
Why the change? Most bicyclists will admit that coming to a complete stop at each and every stop sign is a hassle, as their momentum is interrupted and the process of restarting their bicycle can be as distracting and as dangerous as merely slowing and checking all ways for traffic. This is especially true for groups of bicyclists travelling together. As a former cyclist, I can tell you from personal experience that clipping in and out of bicycle pedal toe clips, toe straps and toe buckles is laborious and can be a distraction as well – I was often forced to take my eyes off the road for a brief time in order to complete the task.
Under the new law, bicyclists will clear intersections sooner and at a consistent speed, thereby making intersections safer for bicyclists, drivers and pedestrians – here’s a video example:
In the new law’s drafting stage, the State of Washington Senate Committee on Transportation staff summarized the argument in favor nicely as follows:
Staff Summary of Public Testimony on Original Bill:
The committee recommended a different version of the bill than what was heard. PRO: There is a lot to like in this bill, but what made me like it even more was the very different states that have all adopted this policy. Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, and Oregon do not usually align on state policy, but they did see the merit of the policy for bicyclists being proposed in this bill. This really is an intuitive change. Allowing cyclists to keep some of their momentum increases safety and traffic flow. Bicyclists usually stop off to the right at a stop sign, which puts them in a blind spot for some motorists. It is the bicyclist’s responsibility to yield if a vehicle is in the intersection or fast approaching the intersection, and this bill will not change that responsibility. The advocates worked hard over the interim, engaging the State Patrol and the Washington Traffic Safety Commission. Biking is a regular form of transportation for me. The safety stop proposed in the bill is important for me because it is safer and more intuitive. Stopping and starting is the hardest and most vulnerable time for bicyclists. This helps reduce the speed difference between me and the cars around me, and when the car does overtake me, I am out of the intersection which removes some unpredictability and traffic. I prefer to plan my routes, so I travel in Senate Bill Report – protected bike lanes or on roads with less vehicle traffic. We have also learned a great deal from other state experiences. Bicyclist’s injuries declined in Idaho after passage of this law. This legalizes typical behavior.
– Senate Bill Report 6208 February 3, 2020.
As all experienced bicyclists are aware, the rules of the road in Washington provide that in almost all circumstances, bicyclists have the same rights and duties applicable to the driver of a motor vehicle.
Under the new law, a bicycle (human powered or electric-assisted) approaching a stop sign may 1) stop as normal, or 2) treat it as a yield sign if:
- They have slowed to a reasonable speed, such that they could safely stop if needed, and
- They yield to any vehicle or pedestrian already in the intersection or with the right of way.
For everyone’s safety, bicyclists must still fully stop at stoplights, including stoplights in bike lanes, stop signs on school buses and stop signs at railroad crossings.
This law is a welcome change and follows several other states that rely on available research and studies that show the “slow and yield” rule actually decrease the risk of traffic accidents.
Burien Attorney W. Tracy Codd has been representing persons involved in serious auto accidents since 1987.
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