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The 'Idaho Stop'

Maine is pondering legislation to make the roads safer for cyclists.

I believe most cyclists would admit to blowing through stop signs — hopefully, checking first for any kind of vehicular traffic. If you're out in the middle of nowhere, it makes no sense to come to a halt if the road is clear. Truth be told, probably a large percentage of those on two-wheeled machines also ignore the proper procedure at red lights.

Technically, these types of behavior are illegal. Yes, if you do any of these misdeeds, you are breaking the law. But because of legislative action, this isn't the case in many places. It has to do with what's referred to as the "Idaho Stop."

And what is the "Idaho Stop?" It is the common name for laws that allow cyclists to treat a stop sign as a yield sign and a red light as a stop sign. It first became law in Idaho in 1982, but was not adopted elsewhere until Delaware adopted a limited stop-as-yield law, known as the "Delaware Yield," in 2017. Arkansas was the second state to legalize both stop-as-yield and red light-as-stop in 2019.

Other states that have passed the stop-as-yield law include Oregon (2019), Washington (2020), Utah (2021), North Dakota (2021), Oklahoma (2021), and Colorado (2022). It also became legal in Washington, D.C., in 2022, and one or both aspects of the "Idaho Stop" are the law of the land in several counties and municipalities around the country.

Studies in Delaware and Idaho have shown significant decreases in crashes involving cyclists at stop-controlled intersections.

For the first time, a similar bill is now before the Maine Legislature. As written, the current proposal carries both the stop-as-yield and red light-as-stop pieces. The measure is supported by the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, but the Portland-based group is proposing an amendment to remove the red light portion.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Mike Tipping, a Democrat, has said he is open to considering the change. "I'm looking for anything I can do to keep people safer," Tipping told Spectrum News. "It's kind of a thing most cyclists, when they can, do anyway because they don't want to unclip. This would make it legal and safer for everyone."

"It's a tricky bill, (with) mixed feelings on both ends from what we have heard," Angela King, Advocacy Manager for the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, told me. "Some bicyclists believe it might just make drivers more annoyed with bicyclists."

Putting in my two cents' worth, I believe both parts should become law in the Pine Tree State. It's what most bike riders do anyway, so make it legal. But only go if it's absolutely clear of traffic. I agree with what King said in that drivers will probably become more irritated. However, I'm guessing most of them aren't familiar with any of the laws concerning cyclists on the road. So they're going to be irked, regardless. Stay safe!

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