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Christopher Beam has a nice article over at Slate about the question of whether bicyclists should be legally allowed to make rolling stops at stop-sign enforced intersections. He thinks they should - I agree. But this paragraph caught my attention.
Lawmakers tend to favor the full-stop, in part because not all cyclists are skilled enough to judge the safety of proceeding through an intersection. During a debate in the Oregon state legislature, one representative admitted that he doesn't like stopping at signs. "But I do it because it's the law," he said. Plus, if bikes can cruise through stop signs, why not cars? Why do bikes deserve special treatment?
Emphasis mine. Here is the reality: on-balance, motorists roll through stop signs just as much as bicyclists; but it's more difficult to notice.

Consider this: a driver speeding down the street at 35mph approaches a stop sign and slows to 5mph, looks left, then right, sees no cross-traffic, then re-accelerates. The casual observer would probably say that this person made a safe and rational stop, even if it wasn't a full stop. Many analog speedometers in cars don't even register below 10mph, further giving confidence to the driver that the rolling stop was sufficiently safe and appropriate.

Now consider a bicyclist traveling at 10mph, slowing to 5mph, looking left, then right, and pedaling through the intersection. To a casual observer, it looks like this person did not come to a full stop. It's not even obvious that they slowed significantly. I understand why its easy to think they just recklessly "blew through" the stop.

Even though both scenarios are functionally identical, the perception is very much different. The 1.5 mile route I ride to school uses secondary roads with 25 mph speed limits (frequently violated and rarely enforced) and about a half-dozen stop signs along the way. It's quiet, but there are usually at least a dozen cars that pass me during the ride. I can say with confidence that a majority of drivers who approach empty intersections roll though at a speed very similar to what I do on my bike.


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