Thursday, September 17, 2020

An Update On "Stop As Yield" Legislation In the United States

Biking has increased in popularity since the start of the pandemic.  With concern over taking public transportation and a desire for a fun, engaging activity that can be done while remaining socially distant, folks everywhere have been fixing up old bikes and buying new ones in large numbers.  For months now, bike shops in Chicago, and around the world, have found themselves in short supply of new bikes due to increased demand and supply chain issues.

With a significant increase in the number of people riding their bikes the need for laws that adequately serve and protect cyclists increases as well.  Eight years ago, I wrote a piece that appeared in Urban Velo (now defunct) chronicling the growing popularity of "stop as yield" laws, rules that permit bicyclists to treat stop signs - and in some cases, traffic lights - as yield signs.  Since then some additional states have adopted the law enacted first by the State of Idaho for the first time nearly 40 years ago.  Here's what's been happening over the past few years:
  • In 2017 Delaware became the second state in the country, after Idaho, to pass a law "permitting/requiring bicyclists to yield at stop signs (when the coast is clear), instead of requiring a complete stop at all stop signs," according to Bike Delaware. That organization notes that, "One of the keys to the near-unanimous passage of this legislation was the involvement, suggestions and buy-in from the Delaware State Police."
  • The following year, 2018, Colorado passed a law permitting municipalities in the state to adopt "stop as yield" at their discretion.  "Under the 'Safety as Yield law,' if a municipality passes a local law, a cyclist approaching a stop sign has to slow to 'a reasonable speed' and can proceed once it's safe to do so.  When approaching a red light, a bicyclist has to completely stop and can go once there is no cross traffic," according to The Coloradoan.
  • In 2019 Arkansas passed it's own statewide "stop as yield" law.  Under that law bike riders must "first slow down when approaching a stop sign, but they don’t have to stop unless it’s necessary to avoid an immediate hazard. They must also yield to any pedestrians who might be at the intersection.  At red lights, the rider must come to a complete stop, but may proceed through the intersection with caution once traffic is clear," according to The Fayetteville Flyer.
  • On January 1, 2020, Oregon became the fourth state to adopt a state-wide "stop as yield" law.  Under that statute, "if a cyclist who is approaching an intersection where traffic is controlled by a sop sign slows to a safe speed, the cyclist may do any of the following without violating the law: proceed through the intersection without stopping, make a right turn or left turn into a two-way street, make a right or a left turn into a one-way street in the direction of traffic upon the one-way street," according to bike lawyer, and friend, Bob Mionske, at
To my knowledge there is no current effort in Illinois to pass a "stop as yield" law.  This is shortsighted.  The current COVID-19 crisis only heightens the need for such a bike friendly law.  As many fear taking public transit, they look to bikes to get around.  The law should be revised to consider the needs of the growing ranks of Illinois bicyclists.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

To Honk or Not To Honk at a Bicyclist

If you drive, please do not honk your horn at a person riding a bicycle, ever.

I hear it from time to time from folks I know.  They will say in an earnest and friendly tone, "I saw you on your bike.  I honked but I guess you didn't see me." 

"Oh, that was you," I'll respond, recalling the fear and/or annoyance I felt at the unwelcome toot.  "You know, you should not honk at someone on a bike," I'll say, trying to affect as gentle a tone as possible.  "It's scary to get honked at while biking."  Some seem slightly wounded.  Some get it.

On a bicycle, honks sound and feel angry and profane, the equivalent of, "Get the f*** out of my way."  That is always my go to assumption about the message being offered by the blare of a car horn.  If I turn and see someone I know waving at me, I feel relief but only after I let a moment of tension, fear and anxiety wash away.  No one likes being honked at on the road, whether in a motor vehicle or on a bike.  But for the bicyclist, the honk sounds particularly menacing.  In a car, a honk from a fellow motorist generally feels like a minimally harsh heads-up.  Even having someone lay on their horn at you generally does not feel like a threat from inside the safety of a motor vehicle.  On a bike, the feeling is very different.  Burdened with the knowledge that people on bikes are often viewed with hostility by drivers, the cyclist being honked at will immediately worry about their safety when they hear a car horn.  The honk indicates anger and aggression from a driver who, if they escalate, can quite easily run you down.  

Last week, curious as to whether other people who bike disapprove of honking as much as I do, I posed the following on Twitter:

I received several responses.  This one was fairly typical:

There were also these:

The Illinois Vehicle Code is not particularly helpful when it comes to offering drivers guidance regarding horn use around bicyclists.  The relevant Code section states, "The driver of a motor vehicle shall when reasonably necessary to insure safe operation give audible warning with his horn but shall not otherwise use such horn when upon a highway." 625 ILCS 5/12-601(a).  The phrase, "reasonably necessary to insure safe operation" is vague.  It begs the question, reasonably necessary to insure safe operation of what and for who's benefit?  Should a horn be used to ensure the safe operation of the honker's vehicle?  What about the safe operation of the vehicle/bicycle of the person being honked at?  The law offers no clarity.  However, it seems a fair interpretation that the Code prescribes horn use in rare circumstances, that is, when safety is at issue.  Section 12-601(a) does not permit horn use because a driver is in a rush and wants to pass a slower road user.  Any such use would be barred by that section.

Illinois has a section of its vehicle code meant to address harassment of bicyclists.  Section 11-703, prohibits a driver from passing, "unnecessarily close to, toward or near a bicyclist," and sets forth that three feet shall be the closest a driver may allow their vehicle to get to a person on a bike.  The section, however, makes no mention of audible harassment of or honking at a cyclist.  A review of other state vehicle laws revealed no prohibitions against honking at bicyclists.  For example, Iowa prohibits throwing any "object or substance" at a cyclist, but makes no mention of honking or other audible harassment like yelling.  The state of Louisiana and Mississippi are broader in their prohibitions.  Those states make it an offense to, "harass, taunt, or maliciously throw objects" at a person riding a bike.  A driver could harass or taunt with a vehicle horn, so these statutes arguably provide greater protection for bicyclists.

Of course, not every honk is made in anger.  In response to my Twitter inquiry I also received these replies:

A "good" honk from a driver can happen, but it is the exception to the rule.  Honking at a bicyclist will probably cause the rider fear and anxiety.  Some cyclists will naturally respond hostilely to a driver honking at them.  That is good for no one.

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