Q: I’m hoping you can settle a debate my husband and I have every time we drive through midtown. He says that bicycles don’t have to stop at stop signs; they can just treat them as yields and ride through an intersection if it is safe to do so. I believe bicycles are required to stop, just like a car. Who’s right?
A: Well, Miranda, you’re the winner of this debate. Under California law (Vehicle Code 21200), bicyclists are subject to all the laws that apply to drivers of vehicles. This includes stopping at stop signs (Vehicle Code 22450) and other traffic control signals (Vehicle Code 21462). Bicyclists are also subject to laws for speeding, and operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol. For more information on the laws that apply to bicyclists, see the CHP’s Bicycle Riding website.
This issue is much more contentious than I would have anticipated. Many argue that requiring bicycles to stop at stop signs and traffic lights is unduly burdensome, because of the physical effort involved in getting a bicycle going again after a full stop. The physics of this are discussed in an interesting article from the National Association of City Transportation Officials. Others argue that, to maintain safety and order on the roadways, all vehicles (including bicycles) must adhere to the same set of laws and regulations. Idaho has enacted a law that allows bicyclists to treat stop signs as yields, and to treat stop lights as stop signs. Similar laws have been proposed in other states, but have not been approved.
Regardless of your opinion on this issue, current California law does require bicyclists to stop at stop signs and lights. Violations of this law can result in a traffic ticket that carries fines and fees of $238!
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