Colorado's New Safety Stop Law

Colorado's New Safety Stop Law. Photo Credit: Shutterstock Photo by Shutterstock

Nearly all cyclists have done it at some point: intentionally run a stop sign. Imagine the following scenario. As you approach a four-way stop sign in a quiet neighborhood, you scan to the left, the right, and up ahead. No one is around. You glance over your shoulder. No one's behind you either. You're tired from an exhausting day at work, and your commute through Denver back home is long. You have to wind your way through six miles of slow back streets in order to avoid the more direct, and dangerous, six-lane surface streets that drivers get to use. Instead of coming to a full stop at the intersection, you slow to about five miles an hour—the pace of a jogger—and continue riding through. You just broke the law, even though you put no one at risk and your only intent was to make your commute slightly easier. But thanks to Colorado's Safety Stop bill, which is sometimes referred to as the "Idaho Stop" because of that state's early adoption of the law, it is now legal to treat stop signs as yield signs, and stop lights as stop signs as Governor Jared Polis signed the bill into law on April 13, 2022! At ColoBikeLaw, we are especially proud of this accomplishment, as our founder and attorney, Brad Tucker, has been advocating for the passage of this law since 2013. A massive amount of credit is due to Bicycle Colorado without whom this law could never have been possible. Brad serves as the president of the board of directors of Bicycle Colorado, and all involved are presently taking a well-deserved victory lap!

What is the Safety Stop and When Can I Use it?

Under House Bill HB22-1028, cyclists who are 15 and older, as well as those using e-bikes and electric scooters, will legally be able to do the following:

  • At a stop sign, slow to a reasonable speed of 10 to 20 miles per hour (depending on the municipality) and proceed through the intersection when it is safe to do so, while yielding right of way to other road users; and
  • At a red light, stop and then proceed through the red light when it is safe to do so, also yielding right of way to other road users.

In both of these scenarios, the cyclist cannot take the right of way from another road user. For example, a cyclist cannot blow through a stop sign ahead of drivers who are already waiting to go through, just as a cyclist cannot stop at a red light and then cut off a pedestrian who is already in the crosswalk. The burden falls on the cyclist to determine whether or not it is safe to ride through the stop sign, or stop and then proceed through a red light. As such, cyclists taking advantage of this new law must do so with extreme caution and care, just as most of us always do while riding.

Why Was This Bill Passed?

  • Safer — The Safety Stop is just what its name implies: safer than the previous requirement that cyclists must treat stop signs and stop lights the same as drivers do. It may be counterintuitive for those who don't ride a bike, but the Safety Stop is designed to make it safer for those on two wheels by getting cyclists through intersections more quickly. Intersections are a clear and obvious danger zone for cyclists; after all, 60 percent of bike vs. car crashes happen at intersections. Imagine the following scenario: while in the bike lane, you approach a red stop light at a busy intersection. To get to your destination, you need to ride through this intersection, then make a left turn at the next side street, which is just 50 yards beyond the traffic light you're about to reach. There are two lanes of traffic to your left, which are both full of cars and trucks going in the same direction as you. You, as well as the rest of traffic, slow to a stop at the red light. There is no cross-traffic, and there are no vehicles ahead of you waiting to make a left turn in front of you. You have two options. Option one is to wait until the light turns green, proceed through the intersection, then stick your left hand out to signify that you desire to make a left turn and cut across two lanes of traffic to the center turn lane, hoping against hope that a driver a) actually allows you to merge, and b) that you don't get run over in the process). Option two, thanks to the Safety Stop, is to come to a stop at the red light, make sure the coast is clear, then ride through the red light and merge across the two lanes of traffic before any of the vehicles behind you have even left the intersection. Obviously, option two is safer.
  • More Convenient — Bikes are most efficient when they are in motion. Depending on conditions, it doesn't take much effort to pedal a bike at 13 miles per hour on a flat road. It does, however, take a significant amount of effort to get the bike up to that speed in the first place. By allowing a cyclist to maintain even a low speed through an intersection, say five miles per hour, they become much more efficient, energy-wise. According to a study, it requires 25 percent less energy to get back up to speed by rolling through a stop sign at five miles per hour than it does to first come to a full stop. Additionally, the Safety Stop increases the legal speed at which a cyclist can use quieter back streets, getting them off busier roadways and away from the dangers of traffic.
  • Makes Bikes a More Viable Commuting Option — By making riding more convenient, easier, and faster, more people will ride, which in turn makes the streets safer by obtaining the critical mass necessary to create driver awareness of those on two wheels. The Safety Stop is just one step in creating a more fair, safe, and convenient society in which to forgo cars.

Cyclists Always Have the Most to Lose

But won't this make things more dangerous by encouraging reckless behavior?!? The answer to that is no. Cyclists have a much better view of their surroundings than drivers do. Their view to the front and sides is unobstructed—there are no "blind spots" on a bike, which makes a rolling stop more reasonable to do on a bike, versus in a car. At slower speeds, bikes can also come to a stop much quicker, are more maneuverable in the event of a last-second-hazard, and do not pose any danger to drivers in the event that a collision does occur. But, when it comes to trusting that cyclists will use the Safety Stop safely and responsibly, it really just comes down to the fact that cyclists always have the most to lose in a car vs. bike collision. Even a low speed collision with a car is likely to cause moderate to severe injury to the cyclist. Common sense and self-preservation mandates that cyclists will use the Safety Stop carefully and as the law was designed, just as it has been used by cyclists in Idaho since 1982.

If You Were Injured in a Bike Crash, Call a Colorado Bike Crash Lawyer Today

Unfortunately, you can be doing everything right and still get clipped from behind or right hooked from the side. And, even though the Safety Stop will likely make it a little safer to ride in Colorado, it won't solve the underlying problem: distracted, impatient, and aggressive drivers. Here at ColoBikeLaw, we provide the absolute highest level of diligence in every personal injury case to maximize our client's compensation and improve their outcome. Call Colorado Bike Law today at 303.694.9300 to schedule a free consultation with attorney Brad Tucker.