The Rolling Stop (And a Confession)

For those who are unfamiliar with Idaho’s “stop-as-yield” law, it allows bicyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs:

49-720.STOPPING — TURN AND STOP SIGNALS. (1) A person operating a bicycle or human-powered vehicle approaching a stop sign shall slow down and, if required for safety, stop before entering the intersection. After slowing to a reasonable speed or stopping, the person shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle in the intersection or approaching on another highway so closely as to constitute an immediate hazard during the time the person is moving across or within the intersection or junction of highways, except that a person after slowing to a reasonable speed and yielding the right-of-way if required, may cautiously make a turn or proceed through the intersection without stopping.

The law has been on the books since the early 1980’s, undergoing only two minor revisions since its inception. From all appearances the law has been fairly successful. The past couple of years there has been growing interest in initiating similar laws in other states.

As an exercise, this past week I’ve been making an effort to come to a complete stop, with a foot down, at every stop sign on my daily commute. I have to admit, this is not normal practice for me.

As an exercise, this past week I’ve been making an effort to come to a complete stop, with a foot down, at every stop sign on my daily commute. I have to admit, this is not normal practice for me. I’ve designed my commute so that I’m traversing mostly bike trails and quiet neighborhood streets. My morning commute starts early while the roads are pretty much empty, and as a result, I’ve fallen into the habit of treating many of the stop signs on my route as yield signs (but only when no cars are in sight). I must say, coming to a complete stop at every corner feels awkward and disruptive, particularly where the stop signs are placed close together and are clearly designed to slow motor vehicle traffic in quiet residential areas.

My little experiment has done nothing to convince me one way or the other that stop-as-yield laws would be appropriate in more traffic dense areas, but I’m pretty sure there are many otherwise law abiding bicyclists like myself who are fudging on this issue. I’d be curious to know how you treat stop signs and how the conditions in which you ride affect your approach.

Do you treat stop signs as yield signs?

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44 Responses to “The Rolling Stop (And a Confession)”

  • Yangmusa says:

    With good visibility and nobody around it makes no sense to stop. However, in dense areas with high traffic it makes sense to stop. A lot of drivers will try to wave me on anyway, not realizing that once I’m stopped it takes a while to get going again. A friendly wave usually gets them moving again. As far as I know, the safety record of yield signs is as good as for stop signs – so it would do everyone a favor to replace stop signs..

  • OmahaBikes says:

    When no traffic is present, I treat stops as yields. When traffic is present I typically force myself into full stop mode. Although, traffic doesn’t always warrant full stops, I think it’s a good idea as an ambassador to transportation cycling to set a good example for motorists that may not understand why full stops are not always necessary for cyclists.

    The other reason for full stops is to communicate to other drivers (mainly in 4-way stop scenarios) that I am letting them have the right of way that they actually have. Doing a track stand or slow roll can be a bit confusing to drivers, and they don’t always know if the cyclist is stopping or not.

  • Alex says:

    I live in Idaho, so I always roll stops.

  • Adrian says:

    I almost always stop except for one sign on my daily route. It’s on a very little-traveled intersection coming up from a park’s overflow parking lot and in the middle of a very steep hill. Otherwise, I always stop just to try to project the image of bicycles as predictable “good citizens” of the road.

    However, I never put a foot down at an empty intersection; my tires are wide enough that I can come to a full stop (i.e., no tire rotation) for a second or two before rolling forward. I’ve done this several times in front of police and they don’t seem to mind–in fact, one gave me a polite “thank you nod” for observing the stop sign at all!

  • Evan says:

    from today’s NY Times (Metropolitan Diary)

    “Dear Diary:

    Urban myth?
    A friend says this happened to him on a recent Saturday afternoon.
    As he was walking on the west side of Second Avenue, between 67th and 66th Streets, heading downtown, he noticed a young man on what looked like a very expensive racing bicycle, riding close to the curb.
    Just before they got to the intersection of 66th, the light turned red.
    My friend stopped walking.
    He glanced to his left and noticed that the biker had slowed down, then stopped at the light.
    My friend swears this is true.

    Peter Nord”

  • Anne says:

    I treat stop signs as yield signs only when no cars are in sight. I once read someone compare a cyclist stopping at every stop sign with their foot down to jumping out of your car at every stop sign.

  • Grendel says:

    I always stop at all stop signs for two reasons.

    1) Take away the ammo of the bike bashers who claim all cyclists ignore stop signs/red lights.

    2) In the event any underaged future drivers are looking they will realize that stop signs apply to them too.

  • Ant says:

    I generally treat them as yield signs unless my daughter is riding with me (she’s 7). I’d rather set the example of full stops and more deliberate looking. Once she gets older and more comfortable with traffic we’ll tackle the practical approach to some of the road rules.

  • Duncan Watson says:

    I do treat stop signs as yield signs except for the ones that are at schools or other areas where children concentrate. I hate giving up my momentum and it is non-trivial to recover it. Additionally cars act unpredictably I am not up to speed. That stop, re-accelerate action can cause drivers to try to pass me unsafely. In particular I always take the lane at stop signs, always. It isn’t safe to have a car try to cross at the same time as I do, other traffic may try to cross while I am still in the intersection.

  • brad says:

    My brother, who’s been living car-free in the Menlo Park/East Palo Alto area for the past 12 years, has learned the hard way through warnings and then tickets from the cops that he needs to come to a complete stop at stop signs.

    In Montréal it’s the law for bicyclists to obey traffic laws as well, so I stop at red lights and stop signs even though I’m practically the only cyclist who does so. I don’t like the rationalization that “with good visibility and nobody around it makes no sense to stop.” If that applies to bicyclists then it should also apply to cars, and then we’d be back to the free-for-all chaos that caused stop signs to be invented in the first place.

  • Rob in Seattle says:

    I follow the general practice of those above: I always stop at stop signs if there is traffic around, and when I’m riding with my six-year-old son on his bike. The former for my safety, the latter as a good example for him. Otherwise, it’s a rolling stop for me.

  • Sharper says:

    It doesn’t seem you’ve experienced the joy that is being yelled at by the car behind you because you came to a complete stop and apparently got in their way. I don’t give much stock to the theory that bicyclists are hated because we’re scofflaws. I think it’s bad out there because we’re still few enough in number that we stand out and are easily scapegoated. I think I’ve seen more other bicyclists coming to full stops in the last year than drivers coming to a full stop in my life, and a 16 mile morning drive-time commute won’t be spoiled by a bicyclist running a stop sign.

    For what it’s worth, I run stop signs only when I would have the right-of-way if I stopped (this seems to be how most drivers approach stop signs, after all). Occasionally, this means I’m running a sign in full view of another vehicle, but I hope they understand that it’s easier for me and quicker for them if I don’t have to slow to a stop (and downshift in the process), get back up to speed, and clear the intersection so they can go.

  • Dean says:

    I treat stops the same as motorists do … like a yield when the circumstances permit. Takes a lot of awareness to keep on your toes.

  • Jonathan says:

    If a car is present (or pedestrian or another cyclist), I come to a complete stop. Unfortunately, more often than not, the other cyclist is blowing through the stop sign (North Dakota). Otherwise, I yield. To be honest, my commute at 0630 has no traffic in my area, and so saying that I even yield at that time of day is pushing it…

  • Dwainedibbly says:

    I stop if there are other roadway users around. That way everyone knows what is going on and nobody has to worry about me doing something unexpected. I expect the same thing of others, so it is reasonable for me to provide that same consistency in my own actions.

    On the other hand if nobody else is around, I’ll roll through. Please note that I “roll”, not “blow” through the intersection. Maintaining one’s inertia is one thing. Recklessness is quite something else.

    Mrs Dibbly & I are moving to Portland next month. It’ll be interesting to see what the general practice is there. I suspect it varies by the rider, like anywhere else.

  • Joe says:


    Just as you do–if it’s a relatively quiet intersection with good sightlines, I will stop pedaling some small distance from the sign and coast on through if there is no other traffic. I make a point not to pedal through the signs, though–my theory is that if someone is watching, it at least looks like I’m making an effort and am prepared to stop quickly.

  • Andy in Reno says:

    I stop if anyone (bike, car, or pedestrian) is present. This is especially true if I’m in a downtown environment…..however, if I’m in my “home” neighborhood I will go with the “stop as yield”. I have noticed a high correlation with tight fighting clothing (spandex or hipster jeans…take your pick) and the tendency to ride through the stop. Must be those clothing choices are uncomfortable and the riders are eager to get home?

  • Richard Masoner says:

    I think some of us misunderstand “treat stop as yields” when you qualify your answer to say you treat stop as yield only when there’s no other traffic.

    If there’s traffic in the street in front of you, a yield sign means coming to a complete stop.

    I generally (but not always) come to a complete (if momentary) stop, but I usually don’t put a foot down. It usually depends on the police jurisdiction I’m riding in.

  • patrick says:

    motorists in my neck of the woods never stop at stop signs (unless they’re drunk or from another state), the philly roll through works fine for everyone, but i always slow down at stop signs because when there arent any cars around drivers completely ignore the red octagons.

  • Neil O says:

    I stop and by that I mean my momentum is *completely* arrested.

    If no one is at the intersection I do a split second track stand before continuing on.

    If there are cars anywhere near the intersection I unclip and put my foot down. (In truth I *have* to put my foot down because I can’t track stand for anything longer than a split second….)

    But anyway, putting my foot down and waving to the driver to my right also serves to say, “Go ahead, I’m in no rush.” I find half the time the driver goes, and half the time the driver waves me ahead instead. At least we’ve made eye contact and agreed what to do.

    I find the eye contact and the show of unselfishness goes a long way.

  • Tamia Nelson says:

    Cyclists have to cope with an infrastructure designed for motor vehicles — we all know that. It takes almost no energy for a driver to stop and go. It takes a cyclist a lot more energy to get going after a stop, especially on an uphill grade, or if she has to sprint, or if she’s carrying a load, or all three. We all know that, too. Some researchers have quantified the rational reasons why some cyclists don’t always come to a complete stop at stop signs. “Why Bicyclists Hate Stop Signs” by Joel Fajans and Melanie Curry is an educational read:

  • Carl in San Angelo says:

    I pretty much always treat stop signs as yield signs, and I ride as if everyone else does too. I don’t assume that cross traffic will stop, and will yield if it looks like they might not. If traffic from the right gets to the intersection the same time I do, I’ll signal that I’m yielding by putting a foot or both feet on the ground. If they’re on the left, I’ll slow way down until I can tell if their intentions are honorable. I do the same at actual yield signs.

    @ Andy in Reno,
    You probably didn’t mean it, but “tight fighting clothing” is right – it would be a fight to get me into it, and I’d probably have to fight my way out of a lot of places around here if I wore it….


  • doug in seattle. says:

    I treat stop signs as yield signs pretty regularly. Like most everyone here, I come to a complete foot-down stop when other road users are present.

    Sometimes, however, when a car arrives at the intersection a few seconds before me, stops, and continues, I’ll do a little sprint and “piggyback” the car through the intersection to save time. This works well at busy four-way all-way stop intersections — safe enough, but not requiring a full stop. Also, this only works when you’re comfortable filtering to the front of the line, which I am if I’m going 10mph or less.

    Many of the residential neighborhoods in Seattle are completely un-controlled. Usually a little roundabout, and somethings nothing at all: a four way stop with no signage whatsoever! These intersections require a good deal of careful observation to manage whether one is in a car or on a bike, which is a good thing!

    I absolutely hate it when cars try to wave me through out of turn. It’s especially annoying when they watch me come to a stop and foot-down, and THEN start waving. I find stoically staring ahead making no reaction at all is the best way to manage these situations.

    Since the most harrowing abuse I’ve received has occurred when I’m riding in a totally lawful manner, I am not concerned with reinforcing “scofflaw” stereotypes. Since I’ve dodged cars driving in the opposite travel lanes to get around traffic, I know that “scofflaw” is not an adjective for just cyclists, but all road users. Those who refuse to see it that way are simply too dense to think critically about it, and can thus be disregarded as someone undeserving of polite consideration.

  • Tim S says:

    I mostly roll through, but if there are cars around, I try to slow down much more so, whether to a complete foot-down stop or to a crawl. I think it’s a matter of respect. If it’s mostly clear, I mostly clear on through too.

  • Ryan Patterson says:

    I commute with my son on the back of my cargo bike. Even with him on board I do little more then yield at the multiple stop signs we pass on our downhill ride to school in the mornings. The road we take is a quiet street with little traffic and mostly used by local bike commuters. On any busier road, or at the sign of any traffic (already waiting at the stop sign) we come to a full stop. If we are about to approach an intersection before a car will reach thier stop I will head on through.

  • Peter says:

    Depends on the circumstances. Busy road = complete stop, 4 way stop sign = pause/track stand then go, Stop signs on the shared roadway portions of the bike trail I treat as yields. My overriding philosophy after 50+ years of cycling is when a car hits a cyclist its a personal injury so don’t put yourself in that place.

  • nick says:

    For me it is all relative to the traffic conditions/traffic or location. But I only usually ever put my foot down for Red lights, almost never at stop signs.

  • Tim D. says:

    @ brad

    I think you’re confusing what people are talking about here with running stop signs and red lights. No one should EVER do that. We’re talking about slowing to a slow roll, looking all directions and proceeding without coming to a full stop. Now you can’t really do this at red lights without fully breaking the law instead of just blurring the lines, but the discussion is on stop signs.

    I do this in almost every place except a few, and it’s always a visibility issue. There a few roads I travel that have intersections with bad visibility. That being said, I can track stand quite well even on a freewheel/freehub bike, so I never put my foot down unless I absolutely have to.

    On a side note : I live in Columbia, MO, and here we have a municipal law that allows cyclists (and motorcycles/scooters) to run red lights that we can’t trigger the sensor for (after waiting and making sure it’s safe, of course) This comes in handy on my commute to work, as I work overnight and hit an intersection at 10:30PM that has literally no traffic at this time. I pretty much always end up running that red light after a couple of minutes, and I’m legally allowed to do so.

  • Nat says:

    I ride two days by myself and three days with my daughters. Our route to school is along bike boulevards in Berkeley, so traffic is sparse. We use the yield rule with the exception of major streets and whenever there is anyone else at the intersection. Periodically I remind the girls that we are subject to the vehicle code so they don’t get too cocky with the intersections.

    Stopping at an inhabited intersection is essential for safety and community relations. The more bicyclists flaunt laws, the more we are subject to anger and misunderstanding from the broader community, and the more our cause is damaged.

    We have an odd phenomenon in Berkeley with over-polite motorists. I talk to the girls about telegraphing any moves for safety, and so will pointedly put my foot down to indicate that I am indeed stopping, and am not going to dart out. It rarely works unfortunately, and we frequently end up being given the right-of-way by any number of motorists in any number of situations. With girls in tow I find it very nice. When I’m by myself it bugs the $#&% out of me.

  • Antoine says:

    The day traffic laws are written by cyclists I will abide.

  • rdhd says:

    If there’s no one around, I slow down and then just keep going through. If there are peds, I’m very careful. If there are cars, I stop.

    And I have a very hard time riding through red lights. I always stop and only go through it if absolutely no one is around and I’m certain to not be run over.

    I actually dislike cars “giving” me the right of way (as Nat discusses above). I think it creates the bad habit of thinking that cars will, or ought to, stop for you. I like to be clear about following the rules. When there are others around. :)

  • Don says:

    The best argument for a rolling stop is that one has more control of a bike moving slowly than of a bike one is merely straddling. Depending on the situation, the key seems to be predictability and clarity of intention.

    We have some four-way stops that settle into a turn-taking rhythm, in which case a foot-down stop actually interferes, whereas taking the lane and playing along with a second-or-two mounted stop works well. In those cases eye contact is usually possible, and a local culture of civility with a smile can actually be nurtured, especially if you take the same route every day on your commute.

    At intersections where there is enough road width and a long line of cars, I will sometimes approach the intersection in the bike lane, find a car with an attentive driver, and match my movements with a car in line, then proceed across with them, keeping an eye on their turn signal and front wheel in case they’re a stealth turner.

    Where there is not enough road width, I just get in line with everyone else and hope I can get out of the way of the good ol’ boy revving his truck behind me.

    Any stop sign at an approach to a major thoroughfare, of course, is where one would stop anyway, and such routes are taken only when there is no choice.

  • Christina says:

    Thanks for your confession! Having an honest discussion about this is important.
    In Taiwan (where I live now) there are stop signs in theory, but I’ve only seen 1 in more than 3 years of living here. There aren’t a lot of yield signs either- you just have to assume that if you’re on a side street turning onto a main street, you’d better yield.
    It works well for 2 reasons: one is that there’s no concept of “right of way”, and everyone’s goal is not to hit anyone else, not to assert their rights, which is how it often is in the US (for motorists and cyclists both). The other is, people really pay attention when they drive. The vehicle density is much greater than in most places in the US, and there are as many scooters and bicycles as there are cars, so you have to pay attention.
    I’m not saying one way is better than the other, but I don’t think we’re getting rid of stop signs in the US anytime soon.

  • Today’s post, in which I direct your attention elsewhere « BikingInLA says:

    […] woman runs down Jesus Christ in a crosswalk, no, really. As an experiment, a cyclist comes to a full, foot down stop every time. A well-reasoned response to last weekend’s article saying cyclists need to earn […]

  • Tom Stahl says:

    As mentioned above, it depends on the immediate situation. If a tree falls in the woods, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? If a cyclist stops at a stop sign, and no one is around to see it, does it matter?

    For me, I like the idea that bikes are vehicles, and therefore should follow the same laws of the road. However, when driving out in the country or quiet neighborhoods, do all cars stop at all stop signs? Not likely.

    So “sometimes” was my answer. It depends on the situation, and truthfully, if it is going to matter in any way with regard to my safety or anyone elses.

    One clear advantage that you have on a bike that you don’t have in a car is 360 visability AND 360 hearing. I can hear another vehicle approaching from either side, as well as see it. In my humble opinion, the advantage we have as cyclists to be more aware of the environment around us, especially at intersections, does give us an edge of safety that someone in a car, with windows up and perhaps radio playing does not have. Also, in most cases, cyclists approach the intersection in a slower manner than do other vehicles, in that we have more time to observe the traffic and assess the risk of rolling a stop.

  • Zeke says:

    If the stop sign is at the top of an incline, I am highly likely to find a way around it in order to avoid trying to get going uphill again and clipping in at the same time. I’ve had my share of falls when losing momentum in this siuation and not able to power the bike with my one leg. If traffic permits, I find a non-stopping way around the sign. If I must stop, then I usually end up having to walk to a better location to get restarted. Somehow, falling over into moving traffic doesn’t seem like a good survival technique…

  • philbertorex says:

    If there is no oncoming traffic, I will slow almost to a stop and then roll through. I believe it is important to slow down and double check the intersection. I do this mainly to look for cars leaving parking lots, pedestrians, and other cyclists. But if I can avoid unclipping, I will.

  • Lief says:

    Of course cross traffic is a factor.
    Of course doing the “right” thing is a factor.
    But there is something to be said for doing what is expected. There are stop signs that cars roll through and there are stop signs that they don’t / can’t. I pretty much treat them all uniquely and follow the pattern of the cars around me or what I would feel comfortable doing in a motor vehicle.

    As a more vulnerable road user, I err on the side of caution (i.e., just because a car can exert authority doesn’t mean I can in the same situation) but for the most part, if you are driving with cars and you act like a car drivers treat you like a car.

  • Sharper says:

    @Doug in Seattle
    I’ve found that stoically looking ahead doesn’t work as well as just looking around and purposefully passing over themas if they’re not even there. I’m constantly amazed, too, by how few motorists seem to realize that glare from their windows might make it impossible for me to see that they’re trying to wave me on.

    I would believe your statement, “The more bicyclists flaunt laws, the more we are subject to anger and misunderstanding from the broader community, and the more our cause is damaged,” more if we weren’t subject to anger and misunderstanding even when we aren’t breaking the law. The “scofflaw cyclist” moniker is the rationalization, not the reason, for why drivers seem to hate bicyclists. As reasons instead, I’d argue for bicyclists taking up road space that is “rightfully” made for cars and bicyclists (and motorcyclists) enjoying a freedom of mobility that drivers lack.

  • Fergie348 says:

    I live in the Bay Area, where stop signs are routinely treated as slow and yield by drivers of all vehicles. I slow, look and if no cross or turning traffic I continue through. There are a couple of lights on my commute route that are not timed and have no controls for cyclists. I treat these as stop signs and look for cross traffic. If no cross traffic, I continue through the red. The key here is awareness, and this is encapsulated in the Idaho law. When a cyclist is struck in the intersection, it is likely their fault for not being aware of traffic. I don’t expect that people in cars or trucks see me and I behave accordingly.

    I think the Idaho law makes a ton of sense – I don’t understand why some national cycling organizations oppose its wider implementation.

  • JP Atkinson says:

    I live in SF — a very hilly part of the city, for the record. I cycle for fitness only. I routinely STOP at all stop signs, both while driving my car and riding my bicycle. I am one of those rare people who actually never roll through stop signs in my car because it isn’t a YIELD sign. No kidding. Pisses lots of people off, I know. On my bike, I do the same (pisses-off my riding partner). If I don’t agree with it, I should work to change the law. Otherwise, a rule is a rule … and this one keeps me from getting tickets (real risk in SF), saves pedestrian lives, and gives me a better workout! Do I wish there were a yield law for bikes and more yield signs for cars? Absolutely!!

  • colleen says:

    If there is absolutely no traffic in all four directions of the intersection – I do a “rolling stop”. If I see traffic – then I definitely perform a “full stop”.

    Most of the bicyclist I see on the road do not wear helmets and have no lights on their bike at night. Now this is just dumber than a boiled turnip! A decent helmet can be purchased for around $35.00 and it prevents your head from hitting the concrete and smashing like a raw egg on the pavement. I’ve been hit twice by motorists and my helmet saved my life.

    I think driving without several bike lights at night in the dark is a form of a “Death Wish” and those people must have zero value on their life. Would someone driving a car at night in the dark, not turn on their headlights? Riding a bike at night in the dark with no light is just as dangerous!

    Now that I read this article – i think I will cease doing the “rolling stops” for the simple reason that there might be traffic I am not aware of – and spending a few extra seconds to save me from getting whacked by an oncoming car and winding up SPLAT on the sidewalk like a squashed bug is probably worth the few extra seconds of my time being delayed!


  • Gary says:

    I do very slow rolling yeilds at the few stop signs that I encounter on my daily commute in Sussex County, Delaware. If I and a car pull up at close to the same time I always wave them through first (yeild the right of way) so they (and hopefully other vechicles) understand that I do not consider myself “special” just that it is hard and time consuming to come to a full feet down stop. I always wear a helmet, and my bike has a front handlebar mounted light, and my helmet also has a light, and I have a flashing red light on the seat stem, and another red flasher on my backpack (assuming it is dark). I believe Delaware is a good canidate for this type of traffic rule.

    I also always try to yeild to traffic in side streets and at intersections if it is prudent and doesn’t put me at risk, but you would be amazed at how respectful drivers around you become if you let one pull out (at a reasonable distance) in front of you before you go through an intersection instead of them having to wait for you. In other words I am riding along and on my right (up ahead) I see a car coming up to an intersection who has a left turn signal on. I look behind me to see that their are no cars coming up behind me, and can see the cars in front in the other lane are far enough away that the car on my right will have an opening to make their left turn, except they must wait for me. I will then slow and wave them on to make their turn in front of me before I cross the intersection. Or a car is approaching in front of me and wants to make a left turn at a street again coming up on the right. There is no one behind me (or they are far enough back) and I will again slow and wave the car to make it’s turn in front of me so they don’t hold up the traffic behind them. I have had the person in the car behind the one I let turn give me a wave because they understood what i did.

    If all cyclists tried to interact with traffic like this, there would be a lot less tension with motor vehicle drivers, and they in turn would not be so unwilling to let us “yeild” at stop signs and possible even give us a bit more courtesy on the roads.

  • Booksy says:

    I always try to keep it flowing, you know? My main concern is not getting hurt, second to that is maintaining momentum (single speed) and my third is not pissing off motorist. The most irritating thing that can happen is to arrive second at a 4 way and get waved through. What a hassle.

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