Safe Yield Law

A stop sign for motor vehicles and a yield sign for bicycles

Safe Yield Law Fact Sheet

What is the Safe Yield Law?

The Safe Yield Law, otherwise known as the Idaho Stop, is a safe and effective way for people cycling to approach controlled intersections by treating stop signs as yield signs. In some places, red lights are treated as stop signs under this law.

The law does not give the person cycling the right of way, but provides a clear system for dictating that they may only proceed when the path is clear. The person approaching an intersection on their bike must slow down to a safe pace and yield to any approaching vehicle or pedestrian. 

Similar to how traffic roundabouts work, the Safe Yield Law is designed to allow people cycling to move safely through an intersection while improving traffic flow and minimizing the risk of conflict and collisions.

Where does the Safe Yield Law exist?

  • The Safe Yield Law was introduced in Idaho in 1982 as the Idaho Stop and has since been adopted in Delaware, Arkansas, Oregon, Washington, Utah, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and most recently in Colorado. In every state that it has been implemented and studied, rates of collision and conflict have decreased and there have been no increased rates of injury reported.

Why is the Safe Yield Law safer and more effective?

Cycle Toronto has been supportive of this legislation for years because it: 

  • Reduces conflicts and collisions for people cycling, walking, and driving: A 2010 U.C. Berkeley study found that bicycle injuries declined 14.5% the year after adoption of safety stop laws.

  • Helps people cycling avoid collisions by permitting them to ride defensively: By giving a person riding their bike the right to choose to traverse intersections at times when traffic conflicts are unlikely, they escape their biggest risk factors. A 2016 DePaul study showed the natural inclination of a person cycling is to slow down as they approach an intersection, check for traffic, proceed if it is safe, and stop if it is not. The Law therefore legalizes what people biking already tend to do. 

  • Quickly clears people cycling from danger zones (intersections): Roughly 75% of cycling injuries occur at intersections, and there is often confusion regarding right of way, with drivers unsure if people cycling will stop. Compulsory stopping in these danger zones forces cyclists to spend more time in jeopardy even when it is clearly less safe to do so. And, like the City’s successful leading pedestrian intervals, the Bicycle Safe Yield Law makes people cycling more visible at intersections by giving them a head start so they’re less likely to be struck in the intersection. 

  • Sets parameters for what really constitutes blowing a stop sign or red light: The law eliminates the grey-zone of whether a complete stop was completed or not, and provides the opportunity to more easily call out dangerous behaviour such as running red lights or stop signs without yielding, or behaviour that could endanger others such as a collision with an oncoming vehicle or pedestrian.

Why is legalizing the Safe Yield Law important now?

Enforcement of minor traffic infractions should not be the focus of a Vision Zero City.

There have been broad calls to replace on-the-ground police enforcement with interventions that have been proven effective on a city-wide scale with fewer resources, such as:

  • Automated Speed Enforcement
  • Reducing speed limits and road diets
  • Creating school and community safety zones
  • Leading pedestrian intervals
  • Protected bike lanes and protected intersections

The Safe Yield Law is a similar policy solution, proven to improve safety and reduce conflict and collisions everywhere that it has been implemented. Policy changes like these can also reduce police presence and interaction on the street, thereby making cycling safer for residents of racialized communities that have historically been over-policed.

Resources and links:

For an excellent explanation of the Safe Yield Law, watch this video by Spencer Boomhower.

"The Idaho Law: allowing safer choice and happier travel," The Meggs Report, 2011. See his abstract, presentation, and policy letter linked within the article.

Policies for Pedaling: Managing the Tradeoff between Speed and Safety for Biking in Chicago. (Recommendation to legalize the Safe Yield Law)

Study: ‘Idaho Stop’ Could Make Chicago Streets Safer for Cyclists

Canadian Cycling Magazine: Study shows Idaho stop improves cyclist safety

Globe & Mail: Why Doesn’t Canada Allow Cyclists to Use the Idaho Stop?

Idaho Transportation Department - reports fewer serious collisions involving cyclists since the Safe Yield Law

Header image by Anwaar Ali from Unsplash.