Stopping for stop signs — or not

Experience says there's a 50/50 he didn't stop — and about a 95% chance he didn't stop completely.

If our elected leaders really want to balance their budgets, all they have to do is start enforcing stop signs.

Take the one on the corner near my building.

Simple observation — standing on the corner and counting cars — reveals that maybe one in 20 drivers comes to a full stop if there are no pedestrians or cross traffic. About the same number blows through the stop even when someone else has the right of way.

The remaining 90% are evenly divided between drivers who slow down to a near stop before rolling through — known around the world as a California stop — and those who just slow slightly or blow through if there’s no one else at the intersection.

And while I’ve never conducted a similar study of cyclists, I suspect the same percentages would probably hold true.

After all, most of us drive as well as ride. And we tend to carry the same habits with us, good or bad, as we switch from four wheels to two.

As for myself, I fall somewhere between the 5% that comes to a full stop and the 45% that slows to a near stop before rolling through the intersection.

I confess. I didn’t use to.

I’ve always made a point of stopping if someone else had the right-of-way. But when no one else was around, I’d usually slow just enough to verify that the intersection was clear, then ride across without stopping.

That ended the day I was crossing an intersection near my home — one that I always blew through because it lay in the middle of two hills. If I didn’t stop, the momentum I carried from zooming down the first one would carry me over the second.

This time, though, I noticed a man walking near the corner with his young son. Then just as I sailed through the stop, I saw the boy point at me and heard him say, “I want to be just like him!”

And I realized I’d just taught a little kid to run stop signs.

That was the last time I ever did it.

These days, I brake to a near stop as I approach the intersection. If there’s no one there, I’ll wait until the exact moment my bike stops forward motion, then release my brakes and let momentum carry me forward.

Otherwise, I’ll hold the brakes, doing a brief track stand until I have the right-of-way, then continue on my way — but only after making eye contact with any drivers who may pose a risk before I move forward. And I try to never put my foot down unless I have to wait for traffic to clear.

There are a couple reasons for that.

First, it’s my experience that bad things happen at intersections; studies have shown that’s where most bike/car collisions occur. And there’s been far too many times when I’ve had to dodge out of the way of drivers who weren’t paying attention, or move quickly to avoid cars spinning out of control after a collision.

If I’m still in the pedals, I can respond instantly by moving forward or turning to either side. If my foot is planted on the ground, though, I’m a sitting duck. By the time I can get my foot back on the pedal and try to move out of the way, it could be too late.

In fact, I’ve only seen a cyclist hit by a car on two occasions; both times, they were stopped at an intersection with a foot on the ground.

One of them was me.

The other reason is, contrary to a common misperception — and despite what some riders and police officials insist – there is absolutely no requirement in the California Vehicle Code that cyclists have to put a foot down to come to a full stop.

The applicable codes are CVC 21200, which says cyclists are  “…subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle…,” and CVC 22450a, which says that the driver of any vehicle approaching a stop sign must stop at the entrance to an intersection or at the limit line, without entering the crosswalk.

That’s it. Nothing about how to stop or how long you have to stop, and no special requirements for stopping on a bike.

Look at it this way — a driver doesn’t have to stop at a stop sign, shift into neutral and put on the emergency brake before releasing the brake, shifting back into drive and going on his or her way.

And neither do you.

If you cease forward motion and allow vehicles with the right-of-way to go through the intersection before you do, you’re complying with the law, whether or not you put your foot down. And even if you only come to a near stop and continue to roll forward slowly while waiting for your turn, you should be good as long as you observe the right-of-way.

I’ve done that countless times in full view of police officers, and never had a problem.

That said, whether or not you actually came to a stop is a judgment call. And it is possible to get a ticket if a cop thinks you didn’t stop completely.

It’s also possible to encounter one of those misinformed officers who thinks a cyclist can’t come to a stop without putting a foot on the pavement. And have the misfortune of ending up in front of a judge who agrees.

Because it’s not always what the law says that determines what’s legal.

But how it’s interpreted — or misinterpreted — by those who enforce it.

Update: Mark points us to a section of the vehicle code that I missed; CVC 587 defines “Stop or stopping” as “any cessation of movement of a vehicle, whether occupied or not.”


Stage 11 of the Vuelta takes the peloton to Principality of Andorra and the Pyrenees, as Igor Anton bounces back on the final climb to claim a three second victory and reclaim the leader’s jersey. Yesterday’s leader Joaquin Rodriguez drops to fourth overall; Nicolas Roche and Frank Schleck are the best known riders still in the top 10, at 8th and 9th, respectively. Tour de France champ Alberto Contador says Anton could win it all.

Meanwhile, the best known American Pro-Am takes place this coming weekend in Souderton PA. And Kiwi track cyclist Adam Stewart receives a two-year ban for importing EPO and Human Growth Hormone.


Formerly bike-unfriendly Beverly Hills unveils its first ever bike plan; cyclists band together to demand that it includes a safer Santa Monica Blvd.

On a related subject, LADOT Bike Blog relates dates and locations for L.A.’s Bike Plan public meetings and webinar, as well as why it matters.


Malibu publications report on the concerns of cyclists at last week’s Public Safety Commission meeting. (Note to Malibu Surfside News: when an item is reposted on another website, you cite the original source — not the repost, capice? Even the AP says it’s okay to credit bloggers.) The City Council Transportation Committee gears up for the Metro Call for Projects. Metro’s The Source gears up to accept comments — but watch your f***ing potty mouth. This weekend’s Spoke’n’art ride features a collection of 9/11 memorabilia; if you’re looking for something a little tastier, maybe you’d prefer Sunday’s LA Tamale Throwdown, complete with bike valet. Those in colder climbs are gearing up for winter biking already; here in coastal L.A., we’re still waiting for summer to get here. In yet another example of the DMV encouraging drivers to park in bike lanes, Brent forwards this question (#6) he encountered while studying to renew his driver’s license.

Speaking of bike lanes, the NYPD loves them so much they park in one themselves. Don’t steal bamboo bikes, bro. A Gallaudet University employee dies after falling from his bike — and waiting 15 minutes for campus security to show up. A Tuscaloosa physician is killed when his bike is hit by a car; in a rare occurrence, the driver is seriously injured as well. A St. Petersburg city councilwoman is seriously injured in a collision with a hit-and-run fellow cyclist. A St. Louis bridge has an opportunity for a beautiful bike and pedestrian makeover. A bike stolen from a cross-country cyclist in Missouri is discovered in Tom Sawyer’s Cave, or close to it, anyway. Cyclelicious takes a detailed look at the newly unveiled Schlumpf Belt Drive System. A new device could give drivers 20 seconds warning before colliding with a bike. Lower speeds limits mean a better quality of life. Bicycling offers nine tips for faster fitness.

Russell Brand rides an ill-fitting bike in New York, while scofflaw cyclist Jude Law breaks the law by riding on London sidewalks. Scotland gets it’s first bike share program. A Scottish bicyclist dies in the lap of a drunk driver’s passenger after being hit at 70 mph and thrown through the car’s windshield. Something UK drivers and cyclists can agree on, as both protest plans to turn off streetlights. Brit cyclists deliver a postal protest in an attempt to keep Posties on their Pashleys. A British cyclist dies riding without a helmet after downing eight or nine drinks. A three-year old is banished from the local park because his training wheels are deemed a threat to “health and safety.” Don’t carry your chain lock over your handlebars, seriously. Biking in Estonia, circa 1930-ish.

Finally, here’s your chance to be the proud owner of a second-hand Brompton.

A 24-carat gold-plated Brompton.

For all those celebrating today, l’shana tova! or Eid saeedi!, respectively. And respectfully.


  1. Mark says:

    Re: Stopping at Stop Signs
    I did receive a ticket just this past weekend because I did not put a foot down. It was in Sierra Madre and the officer replied that putting a foot down would be “acceptable to the people around here”. He then said motorists should stop for a “one-one-thousand” count, but also admitted that neither of these are required by law. Nevertheless, he still gave me the ticket. I did some research afterwards and yours is spot-on. However, section 587 also defines “stop or stopping” as “any cessation of movement of a vehicle”.

    • Joe says:

      587 defines the stop “where prohibited”. In other words, they’re talking about “No Stopping” zones, not stop signs.

      Did your research determine how many drivers put a foot down at stop signs? That would be hilarious to see.

      Sorry you got ticketed.

  2. Jim Lyle says:

    I was once told by a HB policeman, “I want to see your spokes at the stop.” My philosophy is to give the police any reason NOT to give you a ticket; slow down, stop pedaling, look both ways, yield to pedestrians and cars already at the stop, and then continue.

  3. The real question is why do we have so many stop signs in the first place. Their real purpose is to assign right of way where a lower priority street meets a higher priority one. The whole carpet bombing residential streets with 4 way stop signs is a poor subsitue for the need for real traffic calming engineering.

    In some of the studies Tom Vanderbilt references, stop signs are ineffective at slowing top speeds in residential because many drivers over accelerate between each stop to “make up time”. If the goal is to make residential streets safer, by slowing speeds, and reducing conflicts at intersections, there are a number of ways to accomplish this much more effectively without stop signs, and that are much friendlier to bicycling. My favorite being putting in small roundabouts in places we currently put 4-way stop signs. An interesting solution I saw in French towns was elevating entire intersection square so intersection it self was a speed bump.

    As long as stop signs are over used, cyclists will fudge them because it completely saps your energy to stop every block, and even if we had an Idaho stop law, that wouldn’t stop motorist resentment of cyclists, even if drivers rarely comply with stop signs very well either. The problem isn’t really enforcing stop signs, the problem is why do we have damn many stop signs in the first place when there are safer and more effective engineering solutions?

  4. Like @Gary alludes to, overuse of stop signs reduces compliance for all users.

    Regarding compliance rates: From 1982 to 1997, researcher John Trinkaus surveyed stop sign compliance. For all traffic in 1997, he found stop sign compliance is only 3%. In the 70s it used to be nearly 40%.

  5. reb1 says:

    I like traffic lights better. All I need to do is creep up until the light changes or time them. The judge will most likely hold up your ticket even though there is no proof you did not stop. I have seen this done to motorcycle drivers also.
    There are always special unwritten rules placed upon vehicles that do not have 4 or more wheels.

  6. Michael says:

    Thanks for writing this!

  7. The Trickster says:

    I really don’t get the overuse of 4-way stops over there.

    Here we either just let things be, or we put “Give Way” (Yeild) signs at intersections where they do require some definition of what is the superior road but don’t need a complete stop. The only place we have stop signs is small side streets coming on to major roads where the traffic is too small for traffic lights and the occasional side street.

    Also, traffic calming, we just use roundabouts or if we want to slow traffic down mid block, speedbumps or mini raised chicanes.

  8. BB says:

    I put my foot down on the side of who has the right of way. This way they know I will be stopping.

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