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New Colorado law allows cyclists to skip stop signs when the coast is clear

Durango police chief cautions bicyclists to slow down and watch for traffic, but supports decision
Colorado House Bill 1028 was signed into law in March and allows bicyclists to perform what’s called an “Idaho stop,” in which they can pass through a controlled intersection without stopping at a stop sign as long as it is safe to do so. However, they are supposed to slow down when determining whether the intersection is clear. (Durango Herald file)

A Colorado bill signed into law last month allows bicyclists, skateboarders and scooter users to coast past stop signs without coming to a stop as long as there is no oncoming traffic.

Police Chief Bob Brammer says the new law doesn’t concern him.

Gov. Jared Polis signed House Bill 1028 into law in March. The law says that people age 15 and older riding low-speed devices such as bicycles, electric bicycles and electric scooters may coast through stop signs without stopping as long as it is safe. The law also applies to people younger than 15 if they are accompanied by an adult.

The behavior of riding through a controlled intersection without stopping has earned the moniker of the “Idaho stop” because Idaho was the first state Legislature to pass such a law in 1982, according to Bicycle Universe, an online resource and advocate for bicycle enthusiasts.

Riders are required to slow down and determine the intersection free of incoming traffic and pedestrians before they proceed through the intersection or take a right turn, according to the bill’s text. Riders are required to yield to oncoming traffic and pedestrians before moving through the intersection.

When riders approach a red stop light, they are required to come to a complete stop before determining if the intersection is clear of traffic. Assuming it is safe to do so, riders can then continue on their way regardless of the stop light’s status, according to the new law.

A new Colorado law allows bicyclists to pass through a red light once stopping and making sure the intersection is clear of traffic. (Courtesy of Colorado Department of Transportation)

Brammer said he doesn’t see any major issues with the new law and acknowledged that Idaho stops are already a pretty common behavior in a city with as much bicycle traffic as Durango.

“From my perspective in being in a biking community like Durango, I don’t have a concern about it at all,” he said. “It was almost practiced anyway, if you’ve happened to drive around town.”

He said he is a little concerned about applying the law to skateboards and other brakeless devices, but made the point that people on those devices are assuming individual risks if they choose to coast through stop signs.

“Those (skateboards and similar devices) interacting on the roadways are potentially dangerous because there’s no safety equipment on them,” he said. “There’s no brakes, there’s no taillights, there’s no headlights, there’s nothing on it that’s going to prevent a negative interaction when a crash does occur, either by itself or with a vehicle.”

Brammer said he has witnessed some “nasty accidents” involving vehicles and bikes as well as vehicles and skateboards or scooters. But, he said, as long as someone is riding with due care as they approach an intersection and the way is clear, he doesn’t think it’s necessary to bring a bike to a complete stop.

Brammer, who serves on the Colorado Association’s Chief of Police Legislative Committee, said he was made aware of the bill as it made its way through the Legislature. While he doesn’t expect the new law to have any effect on Durango, larger jurisdictions were concerned about allowing cyclists more discretion on when to yield and when to continue through an intersection.

Cities such as Colorado Springs are concerned because of the larger size of their streets and the higher volume of traffic they have, he said.

“They felt that (cyclists) would have to kind of play Frogger,” he said.

Colorado Association’s Chief of Police Legislative Committee was pushing for an amendment that would allow jurisdictions to decide for themselves whether to allow the Idaho stop. But their efforts weren’t successful.

“Just blanketing across the state as this legislation did, it’s going to affect them,” Brammer said. “Is it going to affect us? No, I don’t think so.”

The new law may be convenient for bicyclists, but it doesn’t mean that irresponsible riding will go risk- or consequence-free.

“You have to clear that intersection,” Brammer said. “That intersection has to be safe to be able to proceed through without coming to a stop.”

Depending on the scenario, a cyclist who fails to yield to traffic or pedestrians could be hit with charges of careless driving or reckless driving, depending on if a crash occurs.

“A lot of multiple factors would go along with it. How many people are involved?” he said. “Is it pedestrians, is it vehicles? Whatever the case may be. Is there injury involved or no injury?”

cburney@durangoherald.com

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