A bill that would allow bicyclists to yield at stop signs rather than coming to a complete stop passed both houses of the California legislature this week, requiring only the Governor’s signature before becoming law.
Assembly Bill 122, authored by Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath (D-Encinitas), would specifically require people riding bicycles to yield at stops signs if the intersection is clear. Bicyclists, when approaching a stop sign at the entrance of an intersection, are required to “yield the right-of-way to any vehicles that have either stopped at or entered the intersection or that are approaching on the intersecting highway close enough to constitute an immediate hazard, and to pedestrians, as specified, and continue to yield the right-of-way to those vehicles and pedestrians until reasonably safe to proceed.”
In addition, other vehicles would have to yield the right of way to the bicyclist if they had already yielded. AB 122 would only be a six year pilot program with an end date of January 1, 2028 with a report on the program due that year and would also not affect driver liability if there is an accident.
Assemblywoman Boerner Horvath noted in a statement that she wrote AB 122 to increase safety for bicyclists and to help encourage more people to cycle rather than drive.
“We must encourage smarter, safer, more efficient transportation options that help people choose to get out of their cars. This cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions,” explained Boerner Horvath (D-Encinitas) on Thursday. “AB 122 encourages safe riding in our state by allowing cyclists to spend less time in dangerous intersections.”
Her office detailed the safety reasons in more detail, adding that “Research and common sense make clear that complete stops at all stop sign-controlled intersections make bike trips slower and require more energy from the rider. Studies on cyclists’ stopping behavior also find that these full stops do nothing to improve, and can even reduce, rider safety — attributed mainly to the increased time cyclists spend in the intersection after a full stop compared to the safe yielding alternative.”
While the bill did pass with a majority of bipartisan votes, the votes against AB 122 (or abstained) were also bipartisan. During the Senate vote Monday, the bill passed 31-5 with 4 abstentions, with the Assembly voting later in the week 49-19 with 11 abstentions.
Proponents, Opponents of AB 122
Proponents of the bill, which include environmentalists, cyclists, and public health advocates, all expressed support, as being allowed to yield would allow a bicyclist to go past the stop sign line and be more readily seen by drivers.
“Assemblymember Tasha Boerner Horvath’s policy approach makes San Diego County, and California, safer for all residents,” said San Diego County Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Andy Hanshaw. “This reasonable practice of treating stop signs as yield signs will make intersections much safer for cyclists, pedestrians, and motorists, while reducing carbon emissions and encouraging bicycling.”
However, opponents attacked the bill for encouraging cyclists to ignore stop signs and other traffic laws. Also noted was its lack of necessity during this legislative session.
“Of all the things that we need in the state of California, we think that some bill allowing people on bikes to not make a full stop at intersections is important?,” stated Verne Miller, a neighborhood public safety advisor in Southern California, to the Globe on Friday. “This isn’t that big a change.”
“But for the sake of public safety, while some results have shown lower accident rates with a yield-to-stop law in place, often overlooked is the mental change, specifically in bicyclists. This may help convince them that they don’t have to stop anymore and are just free to go. Traffic laws are there for a reason, and laws like AB 122 could encourage them to go farther in going against traffic laws. It is very much a concern, especially for rider in their 20s and below.”
AB 122 is expected to be signed into law by the Governor later this month.