Bicycles in California must stop at stop signs. This might seem like an obvious statement, but answering this question has more twists and turns than you might expect.
Risks of Disobeying Stop Signs
In 2022, San Diego County had 785 collisions between motor vehicles and bicycles that caused injury or death. Of these, 76 collisions happened when either a driver or a cyclist disobeyed a traffic light or sign.
Although California’s traffic statistics do not identify how many cyclists ran stop signs, the effects are the same regardless of who disobeyed the sign. Since they have no passenger compartment to protect them, bicyclists can suffer catastrophic injuries in a collision. The impact on the cyclist from the vehicle and the road can break bones and tear soft tissues.
What Traffic Laws Apply to Bicyclists?
According to California’s vehicle code, bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as motorists. This means the same traffic laws apply to both types of road users, including the rules about stopping at stop signs.
Under California law, all vehicles, including bicycles, must stop at stop signs. If the roadway has a stop line, the cyclist must stop behind the line. At intersections without stop lines, bicycles must stop before crossing the crosswalk or entering the intersection, depending on whether the road has a marked crosswalk.
The bicyclist can proceed after they have come to a full stop and regained the right-of-way. Where cross-traffic has no stop sign, the bicycle can proceed after traffic has cleared. At a four-way stop, the bicycle obeys the same right-of-way rules as motor vehicles, with the vehicles taking turns based on the order of arrival.
Do Stop Signs Apply to Bicyclists?
You might wonder why this question even arises. Eleven states plus Washington D.C. have traffic laws that implement the “Idaho stop.” Under this rule, which originated in Idaho, state laws allow cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs. They only need to stop when there is cross traffic at the intersection. When the intersecting road is clear, they can proceed through the intersection without stopping at the stop sign.
Contrary to what you might believe, bicycle crashes do not increase when states adopt the Idaho stop law. Instead, studies show that an Idaho stop has a neutral to positive effect on bicycle crashes. In other words, states with Idaho stop laws see bicycle crashes stay the same or decrease after implementation.
The decrease happens because cyclists in states with the Idaho stop law can stay out of drivers’ blind spots at stop signs by proceeding through the intersection while the motor vehicle has to stop.
California does not allow the Idaho stop. But it almost did. In 2021, California’s legislature passed the Bicycle Safety Stop Bill. This bill would have amended California law to allow the Idaho stop. Even though the bill passed in both the state assembly and senate and had the support of bicycle safety advocates, California’s governor vetoed the bill, and it never became law.
Riding Safely and Legally
You must stop your bicycle at all stop signs in California. If you fail to stop, you could be cited for disobeying a traffic sign. More importantly, other road users expect you to stop. If you run through a stop sign, you could hit a pedestrian or get hit by a turning driver who expected you to stop.
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