Colorado House Passes Bicycle “Safety Stop” Bill

If signed into law, the bill would make it easier for cities and towns to pass local laws enabling bicyclists to treat stop signs as yields.

A bicyclist at a stop sign.
A bicyclist at a stop sign. Photo: David Sachs.

Colorado cities and towns may soon have an easier time legalizing what many cyclists already do to stay safe: Treat stop signs as yield signs and red lights as stop signs.

In a 54 to 10 vote, the Colorado House passed the “safety stop” bill, which now heads to the Senate with a decent chance of becoming law.

The bill is a little convoluted. It would not “allow bicyclists to ride through stop signs,” as Fox31 has reported. Local governments can already adopt that rule, and Summit County, Dillon, Breckenridge, and Aspen enacted versions of it years ago.

What the bill would do is standardize language for other towns to adopt this measure. And that matters because it gives cities one less excuse to avoid enacting the “safety stop” rule, says Bicycle Colorado Denver Director Piep van Heuven.

“The legislation is important because it’ll create uniform conditions as more and more communities adopt bike-friendly traffic regulation,” van Heuven said. “It also removes one of the barriers to passing new safety laws. Communities can focus discussion on whether the safety stop law will improve traffic flow and safety without also needing to draft the language.”

In Denver, the state bill would give the City Council a ready-made, standardized ordinance to adopt.

The standardized rule says that at intersections with stop signs, cyclists should slow “to a reasonable speed” and yield to anyone with the right of way before proceeding. The default “reasonable speed” is 15 mph, but local governments will be able to raise or lower that speed.

At red lights, cyclists would have to completely stop and proceed only if there’s no cross traffic.

The idea behind the safety stop is to bring the law into alignment with reasonable cyclist behavior.

University of Colorado study found that bicyclists disobey stop lights to stay safe. When bicyclists get a head start at intersections, they become more visible to the drivers behind them, which helps avoid crashes in which the driver turns across the path of a cyclist in the vehicle’s blind spot.

House reps stripped an amendment that would’ve outlawed the safety stop on state highways, so the bill now heads back to the Senate. Given the element of local control in the legislation, van Heuven thinks it has a good chance of passing.

“We’re optimistic based on the initial Senate vote,” she said. “Now is a good time to reach out to your state senator and remind them why this is important for your safety on our roadways.”