Should Cyclists Ride Through Stop Signs?


A fascinating debate has raged in Toronto in the last few days about cyclists and stop signs - an issue I have fiercely discussed by both cyclists and angry Auckland motorists who criticise “cyclists thinking they can break the law.”

A few months ago a taxi driver in a cab I was in actually swore out the window at one of the cyclists going through a stop sign.

In the Canadian accident, a 38-year-old woman died after she ended up beneath the wheels of a truck while turning a corner. The truck driver won’t be charged because authorities said it wasn’t he who was to blame.

Hundreds of cyclists staged a memorial ride -and an MP has introduced legislation that would require trucks to add side guards — barriers installed on the side of trucks to prevent people from being crushed beneath them in the event of a collision while turning. It would cost trucks about $2500 per vehicle.

Heavy trucks are involved in 19% of Canadian cycle accidents.

But the issue that has been raised with this tragic accident is whether cyclists should be excused form having to stop at stop signs and just have a mandatory glance each way for safety as they burst through.

You see cyclists doing that every day in Auckland’s CBD.

In the Ontario city of Hamilton, a city council committee has recommended legislation “to permit an ‘Idaho stop’ style traffic control for cyclists”.

An ‘Idaho stop’ is so-called because of a 1982 law passed in Idaho that permits, in essence, cyclists to treat stop signs like yield signs.

The law does not say you can roar through a stop sign. It says cyclists must slow down to a reasonable speed and, if required for safety, stop when they come to a stop sign.

And cyclists “shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle in the intersection or approaching on another highway.

CYCLISTS: Should they be able to ride through stop signs if they think it's safe?

The campaigners are quoting for their case, an article on a San Francisco bike group site called: Why cyclists hate stop signs, which argues:

“Bicyclists can work only so hard.

The average commuting rider is unlikely to produce more than 100 watts of propulsion power, or about what it takes to power a reading lamp.

At 100 watts, the average cyclist can travel about 20 km/h on the level. When necessary, a serious cyclist can generate far more power than that (up to perhaps 500 watts for a racing cyclist, equivalent to the amount used by a stove burner on low).

But even if a commuter cyclist could produce more than a 100 watts, she is unlikely to do so because this would force her to sweat heavily, which is a problem for any cyclist without a place to shower at work.

With only 100 watts’ worth (compared to 100,000 watts generated by a 150-horsepower car engine), bicyclists must husband their power.

Accelerating from stops is strenuous, particularly since most cyclists feel a compulsion to regain their former speed quickly. They also have to pedal hard to get the bike moving forward fast enough to avoid falling down while rapidly upshifting to get back up to speed.

For example, on a street with a stop sign every 90 meters, calculations predict that the average speed of a 150-pound (68 kg) rider putting out 100 watts of power will diminish by about forty percent.

If the bicyclist wants to maintain her average speed of 20 km/h while still coming to a complete stop at each sign, she has to increase her output power to almost 500 watts. This is well beyond the ability of all but the most fit cyclists…”

It’s been a hot topic in the Canadian press with many newspaper readers predictably sounding off about cyclists’ behaviour - while one column fought back saying motorists also sometimes slip through stop signs.

It’s a debate worth having here because the practice is so common.




  1. Mike says:

    Well I had one idiot on Friday night almost do him self in on the side of my car.
    I came up to the lights, had a green arrow to turn left. Only at the very last instantance I could have pulled up did I see him in my peripheral vision come from inside of stopped cars who would have been on a red light. This arrow was green for 10 seconds before I got to it and he came through the intersection at 30-35km/h.

    I know a lot of Jafa drivers are crap, but my god this guy is his own worse enemy. If I wasn’t driving defensively by slowing right down to about 15km/h to go around he would have been a hard into the side of me.
    If I’d been like most drivers and not even slow down for a green he could quite likely be dead.

  2. Matt says:

    I’m a cyclist who treats intersection controls as give-way if I’m not moving away from the kerb (ie: crossing the top of a T, or turning left), and it’s less the effort, though that’s part of it, and more that if I stop I’m much more vulnerable when moving off again than I am in taking care but keeping moving.

  3. Matt says:

    It’s a moot argument here. In North America they have way more city grids, and they can have the awful 4 way stop signs on each and every intersection.

    So when there is a stop sign in NZ there is generally a good reason for it, and hence it isn’t too much to ask to stop all road users (including cyclists) behind a stop sign. And when there isn’t a really good need for a stop sign we use a give way sign.

    Incidentally in some cities of the US the high number of 4 way stops, and the incredibly long cycle times on traffic light controlled intersections mean that driving is really slow, and that’s why they build all those urban freeways. Growing up in Adelaide where the cycle times on traffic lights is quick I always thought the arterials flowed pretty well and hence there was never any need to build urban freeways. (Although it never stopped a certain segment of the population constantly begging for them - a bit like Joyce and the Nationals and the madmen have taken over the asylum). New Zealand is more like Australia with its city geometries. Auckland really never needed motorways.

  4. Matt L says:

    Its probably a debate worth having along with one around cyclists riding through the pedestrian phase on lights. In the case of the latterit is currently illegal to do but in many cases makes sense to allure it but then I have also seen cyclists almost knock people over by flying through them walking

  5. ingolfson says:

    I agree with Matt L - seeing that in Auckland, we have traffic lights everywhere, the discussion around signals is more important than stop signs, which we don’t have all that many. Walking speed cycling should be allowed on a ped phase, while cyclists in general need to obey the lights better - if for no other reason than the bad publicity it brings to cycling.

  6. Harry says:

    Car drivers don’t stop at stop signs, unless forced to do so.
    Shouldn’t that be tackled as a priority?

  7. Joshua says:

    Cyclist should always obey red lights unless in pedestrian phase, I don’t mind cyclists using the pedestrian phase as long as the they are going along beside the pedestrian movement, once they come to a situation where they need to cross the pedestrian movement they should be required to stop.

    With Stop signs they should not be required to stop when going a reasonable speed, the stop signs are in place in NZ because of visibility reasons from a vehicle/car point of view, cyclist have more visibility of and are going a slower speed, so should have a better sense of the surrounding environment.

  8. richard says:

    I agree with both Matt and Joshua. I have cycled for quite a few decades and unless I was in a marshalled race I have always stopped for stop signs…..they are there for a reason and that is visibility aspects (as seen by a motorist with A pillars blocking vision etc. that cyclists don’t have). However the law applies to ALL.

    I also stop for compulsory stops driving the car, something that failing to do in the MOT days used to get you a ticket??! Unless traffic is approaching I would suggest probably only 10% of cars actually physically STOP at the double yellow line. At an intersection near me cars regularly go through the stop at 20- 30kph!


    All that nonsense about effort starting at the lights etc. BUNKUM change gear.

    Years ago the Traffic Police used to give cyclists a ticket if you didn’t put your foot down at a stop. I would have liked to have tested this in court because to stop is to cease movement and I find it no trouble to “stand” on the pedals for a second

    I fully agree with crash bars on the side of trucks as in Europe but not to protect cyclists shooting through Stop signs!. They would probably save several lives a year, pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.

  9. ingolfson says:

    The crash bars POSSIBLY could have saved Jane Bishop on Tamaki Drive (I say possibly, as I am not sure whether she went under the truck from the front or from the side). They should be mandatory. Watch Steven Joyce squirm out of that if he’s ever asked on it.

  10. Geoff Houtman says:

    This is a rhetorical question right?

    I always yell abuse at arseholes who go through stop signs and red lights (cyclists or motorists), it’s dangerous as all hell.

    But it happens so often, at least in Grey Lynn, that when a cyclist gets hit by a car it’s not hard to imagine it’s their own stupid fault.

    Makes it hard to support cycling initiatives when they act like tools.

  11. Malcolm says:

    The thing with stop signs is that when you are on a bike, you have far better visibility than when you are in a car, so you often don’t NEED to stop. You also have the advantage of hearing if anything is coming as you arent inside a car with stereo/windows blocking the noise. I regularly ride a bike and regularly dont stop at stop signs, because I dont need to. If I’m driving, I always stop at stop signs because its harder to see.

    I read an interesting argument about cyclist laws. Basically, stop signs should be treated as give way signs by cyclists, and traffic lights should be treated as stop signs. So if there is nothing coming at a set of traffic lights, cyclists can go through as there is far better visibility on a bike. That way cyclists dont then hold up traffic when the lights change to green. Its win win. But if a cyclist gets hit by a vehicle going through the green light, then the cyclist is at fault. Ditto with stop sign.

  12. Bryce says:

    If someone could stop cyclists screaming up the inside of far left cars at intersections it would be helpfull. Scares the bejeasus out of me every time as I am already looking out for red light runners and pedestrians. Even worse was the guy who came up inside me at a ‘free turn’. I slowed (of course) as I was turning and was making sure I was not pulling in front of anything on my right and next second a cyclist clipped my left hand mirror on his way through. He then gave me an earfull. Brilliant. I can see where those who don’t ride get all anti the cycling crowd.

  13. Geoff Houtman says:

    Malcolm- you may or may not NEED to stop, but by law you MUST.

    The Road Code applies to every road user, that’s why it works.

    It even applies to cyclists.

  14. richard says:

    Whether you “need” to stop or not because a bike has better vision than a car and much better than a truck the law is the law….All vehicles have to come to a complete stop and the driver / rider has to look both ways then proceed.

    I agree for all except pedestrians it is safer and causes less agro if cyclists ride slowly through lights on the pedestrian phase (when there is a Barnes Dance phase). However, this is illegal and when I used to cycle to work through many sets of lights some years ago I used to dismount cyclo cross style and run across the crossing remounting on the other side getting a clear road for some distance on the other side as well.

    Believe it or not some years ago there was a test case in court and a cyclist is breaking the law and has no rights walking across a pedestrian crossing with his bike! The cyclist is still in charge of a vehicle even when on foot pushing his bike.

  15. Malcolm says:

    Yes I know the law is that ALL vehicles must stop. My point is that cyclists usually don’t need to, so maybe the law should be changed to the Idaho rule, or whatever its called.

  16. Julia says:

    Are you guys kidding? Of course you need to stop at stop signs and traffic lights.
    You may not need to for safely getting through the intersection on a bike ( treadle or with a motor, makes no difference in this argument ), but you have to stop In Order To Train The Cagers into giving you space and looking out for your presence.

  17. MrV says:

    Cyclist either should behave either as a vehicle OR a pedestrian, and not interchange between the two modes when it suits.

    This means obeying stop signs if you are a ‘vehicle’ or else crossing with the pedestrians (dismounting if there are lots of pedestrians trying to cross).
    Pedestrians get sick of cyclists trying to barge their way through.
    [Personally I have no hesitation in causing cyclist to fall off if they try this]

  18. Loghead says:

    As a regular commuter cyclist I always stop for red lights. I do slowly work my way across intersections on pedestrian signals - always keeping the priority with the peds. The one thing I am guilty of is jumping the green light if I know the intersection and the light sequences. It enables me to get out ahead of the traffic, before the cars enter any merge areas and lets the drivers see that I am ahead of them and they will have to watch for me as they pass. I’d like to see a system of cyclist advance green lights at some intersections -maybe a 3-5 second head start…
    We need to share the road - that apllies to all users and as cyclists, we need to stop putting ourselves into dangerous situations unnecessarily.

  19. Glen K says:

    I think there is merit in investigating an “Idaho stop” law here for STOP signs - quite a different situation to red traffic signals though.

    But for now we have the laws as they are, and you may be interested to know about two local initiatives:

    (1) CAN, the Cycling Advocates Network, has been developing a “Stop At Red” campaign, funded by the Road Safety Trust - see

    (2) A group of local Auckland bunch ride leaders have developed “The Good Bunch”; a campaign to encourage good bunch riding behaviour (including stopping at signals, crossings, etc) - this is also supported by CAN and BikeNZ via the NZTA “Safer Cycling” programme. See for more info.

  20. Brent says:

    What an interesting and valid discussion.

    I notice that most of the car drivers (that haven’t stated they cycle) are all for making cyclists do what cars do. This seems to stem emotively from “fairness” rather than practicality however.

    Yet cyclists understand the situation better and think that yielding at stop signs and pedestrian crossings at lights is more practical.

    I would like to add another position to the cycling sides - that yielding at lights/stop signs is also safer. Why? Two reasons:

    1. Because when you are parked at lights/stop signs you are often in the blind spot of the person parked in their car waiting for the lights. If you try and turn with them, they often unwittingly cut you off, causing you to either hit them or slow until they pass and hope the next driver has seen you. This has happened to me dozens of times. In a situation where you have yielded and turned before the car, you are no longer a problem to those cars.

    2. One of the least safe things to do on a road on a bike is to start and stop. These are the times when you have the least balance, which you can see often when a cyclists starts and weaves. Stopping on a bicycle, on a road, IS dangerous because it forces you to become unbalanced.

    I drive and cycle and I don’t care if cyclists yield only at lights/stop signs. They are on an entirely different vehicle with dramatically more vision and control.

    If I cycle, I think I should be able to yield only but only proceed through intersections at max 10kmph. If I get this wrong and go when I shouldn’t, it should (and will be) me that pays for the mistake.


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