If two California lawmakers have their way, bicyclists will soon be able to run stop signs without stopping or even slowing down — in essence, legalizing the “California roll.”
According to a Los Angeles Times article, the “two-tiered approach to the rules of the road — one for cyclists and one for cars — is unlikely to ease growing tensions over sharing California’s roadways.”
The Assemblymembers proposing the measure, Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) and Jay Obernolte (R-Hesperia), claim it would enhance public safety.
It may not be an easy sell, but Obernolte, an avid bicyclist himself, told the Times that allowing cyclists to run stop signs would reduce road congestion. His theory is that since bicyclists would still have to stop at red lights, they might be “motivated them to take less-traveled side roads rather than main roads with traffic signals.”
That could lessen congestion and boost safety, he said. Obernolte also claims that stopping at stop signs puts cyclists at greater risk, according to the same Times piece. “Their loss of momentum causes them to spend a substantially longer amount of time in the intersection.”
What neither Obernolte nor Ting nor the Times addressed was the impact of the proposed policy on innocent bystanders. In Ting’s own San Francisco, the Chronicle reported a 2013 fatality caused by a cyclist blowing through multiple stop signs on a downhill road and fatally striking a 71 year-old Sutchi Hui, of San Bruno, after running a red light. While the cyclist cut a deal with prosecutors in exchange for pleading guilty to felony vehicular manslaughter, his case illustrates how changing the “same road, same rights, same rules” mentality could lead to more tragedies.
According to some bicycle advocates and traffic-safety experts quoted in the Times story, the greatest threat when it comes to the rules of the road is uncertainty—and any new law that creates uncertainty is likely to increase the potential for more untimely deaths.
The powerful bicycle lobby scored a victory in 2013, requiring motorists to maintain a 3-foot or greater distance from cyclists or risk being fined. Initially, the bill was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown—echoing my own opposition speech on the Assembly floor (after the tragic death of a 48-year-old Kevin Garland, killed in a head-on collision in 2011 in the district now represented by Obernolte) because it would have allowed motorists to cross the double-yellow line on two-lane highways, increasing the chances of a head-on collision and opening the state and municipalities up to unlimited liability.
Exemptions to laws tend to breed resentment among those who must continue to obey them. Allowing bicyclists to “opt out” of stop signs may have the same effect.
“There’s nothing more frustrating to the average citizen than a law that’s selectively enforced,” Obernolte told the Times.
In the end, that might just stop this bill.
Tim Donnelly is a former California State Assemblyman.