The Rolling Stop: Who’s Worse?

Bicyclists often get criticized for rolling though stop signs, but a recent Portland Bureau of Transportation data sampling found that motorists frequently aren’t any better at coming to a full stop than we are. From an interesting article in the Oregonian:

As state lawmakers debate giving Oregon bicyclists the rolling “Idaho” stop, outraged motorists have insisted the plan just legalizes the bad behavior of what, in their eyes, are a bunch of reckless anarchists.

Well, according to field research conducted by the city of Portland, there are indeed a lot of scofflaws blowing through stop signs around town.

We’re talking about commuters who apparently have a total disregard for safety and the law, coming to a full stop at intersections only 22 percent of the time.

See! It’s those dang bicyclists with their neon-colored jackets, self-righteous attitudes and ripped calves, right? Right? Actually, no. Those were motorists.

The Bureau of Transportation’s “data-sampling” at different times at five locations in 2006 and 2007 found that automobile drivers were nearly as dismissive of stop signs as cyclists.

Read the full article

17 Responses to “The Rolling Stop: Who’s Worse?”

  • Fritz says:

    If you haven’t seen Warren’s Stop movie and the blockbuster sequel, Stop II, go do it when you have a chance.

  • Perry says:

    I believe that helmet cams and other portable video devices will eventually revolutionize how we perceive road conditions and law breakers. This will help cyclists in some cases and hurt them in others. It is well known that in criminal cases, some of the worst evidence comes from eyewitnesses. I think that the same faulty eyewitness accounts are taking place by some motorists who perceive cars strictly obeying laws while they at the same time perceive cyclists breaking laws. The videos in the previous comment make the point very well.

  • Alan says:


    “If you haven’t seen Warren’s Stop movie and the blockbuster sequel, Stop II, go do it when you have a chance.”

    Love it. Thanks..

  • anon says:

    I’ve actually been thinking about these rolling stop motorists for a few weeks and how hypocritical it is of them to point the finger at cyclists. I’m glad someone has quantified it. (My guess at their compliance rate when I am out walking in my neighborhood is maybe 10%.) In reality this is a turf war; motorists will make up any argument – no matter how specious – to get cyclists off of “their” roads and out of their way.

  • Duncan Watson says:

    Sit at an intersection and watch motorists run red lights. It is surprising how many will run an “orange” light. Rolling stop signs, orange lights, speeding, and unsafe passing are all extremely common.

  • JepLeas says:

    Minor correction. That would be the Portland Bureau of Transportation. The state of Oregon has a Department Transportation (ODOT)

  • Alan says:


    Thanks. I corrected the OP.


  • Stephen says:

    I have to wonder where this is all going to lead. Of course motorists violate the law on a daily basis, and yet lean on cyclists for the most trivial of reasons. Of course cyclists often do the same thing, feeling like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. But as frustrations mount over job security, gas prices, economic conditions, etc., when do commuting cyclists start becoming a target for the disaffected looking for someone to bully? Already we seem to have a rise in crime, including shooting fatalities, and no doubt spousal and child abuse, speeding, and other expressions of a culture gone mad. I try to do everything by the book when I’m commuting, and as much as I’ll take the lane legally when I need to, I’m starting to wonder when some psycho is going to clip me for having fun and saving money.

    For the record, I rode to work today in a coat and tie and fancy shoes (I have a workshop with the elected officials this afternoon). It was fun, and I’m sure I was probably the most elegantly dressed bicycle commuter in the city this morning. No one tried to run me off the road, too…

  • beth h says:

    @ Stephen: I’m glad no one hassled you while riding in your suit and tie. That’s a common refrain I hear from bike commuters who ride in office attire. Based strictly on anecdotal evidence, better-dressed bicyclists DO get hassled less by drivers, though the reasons aren’t clear: is it because they’re perceived as more mature, more “responsible” than those of us who commute to more “dressed-down” jobs? Is it because they’re perceived as being wealthier (and therefore better able to afford an attorney should something go wrong)?

    Riding “by the book”, no matter what wardrobe I select, seems to helping me less and less as more people move here and there are more drivers on the roads, all clamoring to get someplace in a hurry. Based on the increase in motorist aggression I am witnessing every day, rolling stops are becoming the least of my worries. I am more inclined to take quieter, stealthier paths of least resistance that keep me away from heavy car traffic and out of view of the police (who tend NOT to patrol quiet side streets during rush hour).

    The roads, and most of the rules, were made for cars, and applying them equally to bicycles is, IMHO, highly problematic.

    Happy riding anyway –Beth

  • Adrienne says:

    The concept of ‘Share The Road’ has been lost by so many in this discussion. Most of us get out on the roads and try to hold onto our own piece of it instead of looking at the ‘other’ as equally deserving of space, regardless of who the ‘other’ is. The ‘Road’ could be an elevator, a department store doorway, the I 80 freeway…. it is all the same. This scenario is just a high speed version of what we all experience everyday in many aspects of our lives. So, to me, until we can all be aware of the ‘other’ as someone who deserves the same space and time as ‘me’, it will never change.

  • Fritz says:

    I like Adrienne’s reminder that we all need to share our space.

  • Fritz says:

    Bike lawyer Bob Mionske discusses this issue in his latest column.

  • Stephen says:


    Clothes DO make the man (and the woman), but I have no idea if it was or is a factor in how much I’m hassled or not. I doubt they see me as an attorney, but perhaps more as a working person just trying to get to work instead of farting around on a bicycle. One’s personal appearance on a bicycle very may well make a difference, and that may be fair or unfair, depending on your point of view (or your clothes budget). I usually drive when I know I’m going to a public meeting and represent my employer (a local government), but today the weather was beautiful, and I wanted to see if I could do this on a bicycle.

    What I think is that dress alone doesn’t do much, but that plus careful manners on a bicycle can make a difference in how drivers perceive you. If a sport cyclist dressed in neon lycra cuts me off in traffic, I’m not going to be very sympathetic as a driver, even though I know more than most what the law is. And if a student does something really stupid on a bike (very common around here), then I’m only going to want to get by, and hope that kid’s parents won’t have to bury him or her before he gets his career going.

    Share the road is great, but in a growing urban area beset by job losses, steep declines in real estate value, sucky weather, or all the above, there are limits imposed by human nature. That’s why I try to be careful about setting a good example, and by selecting a route that minimizes conflicts with fast-moving traffic. And by agitating when and where I can for bicycle-specific facilities such as bike lanes and shared use paths.

  • Eddie says:

    What do you think a STOP sign should really say:

  • Alan says:

    Or this… :-)

  • Alan says:


    Thanks for the link to Mionske’s article.

  • Rolling stops and scofflaw…. motorists? | linkfeedr says:

    […] Rolling stops and scofflaw…. motorists? This article was found on Cyclelicious. Click here to visit the full article on the original website.Welcome to Cyclelicious. Take the quiz and see how well you do. Answers immediately below.1. Motorists in Portland, Oregon come to a legal, complete stop at stop signs how often? 92% of the time 62% 44% 22% If you answered 92%, you’re not even close. 62% and 44% aren’t right either. The Portland (OR) Bureau of Transportation found that drivers come to a complete stop at stop signs only 22% of the time, according to this article in The Oregonia. The same traffic survey showed cyclists stop only 7% of the time, so bike lawyer Bob “Uncle Tom” Mionske encourages cyclists to see stop signs not as obstructions but as “opportunities–to improve bike-handling skills, braking technique, trackstands and acceleration”, but most people (including cyclists) generally don’t let reality get in the way of their preconceived conceptions. A minivan driver, for example, may only notice things that reinforce negative stereotypes about cyclists being reckless, while ignoring attentive, law-abiding riders. It goes both ways, of course, since we as cyclists tend to only see the scofflaw motorists.Hat tip to Eco Velo. […]

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