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Bill allowing cyclists to roll through stop signs clears first hurdle

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill allowing cyclists to roll through stop signs was unanimously advanced Tuesday by the House Transportation Committee despite concerns raised about safety.

"Cyclists do this anyway," the sponsor of HB58, Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, told the committee. Moss said studies have shown that similar laws have not caused an increase in accidents.

She described the bill as letting cyclists treat stop signs as yield signs and red lights as stop signs, as they have been able to do in Idaho since 1982, and in Delaware since last year.

Even though support for sending the bill to the full House was unanimous, testimony was mixed.

Phil Sarnoff, head of Bike Utah, said his organization wouldn't be supporting the bill if it wasn't seen as increasing cyclist safety. He said accidents hurt the goal of encouraging more Utahns to ride bikes.

But Val Shupe, executive director of the Utah Chiefs of Police Association, opposed what he suggested would be empowering cyclists to risk not being fast enough to clear an intersection.

Cyclists "may feel safe" when they see a car some distance away, Shupe said, but may not realize how quickly a vehicle can gain on them. He said police chiefs "don't want to sacrifice the safety and the liability" of the existing law.

Shupe said he did not believe "a lot" of citations were being issued.

However, Dave O'Leary, credited by Moss with encouraging her to try again this year to get the legislation passed, said he's been stopped by law enforcement three times for not coming to a stop despite not being in traffic.

O'Leary, who called himself an occasional bicycle commuter, said he respects law enforcement, but "unfortunately, they were expected to enforce what is truly an impractical law."

A regular bicycle commuter, Allen Sanderson, said he's against changing the law.

"It's not that big of a hassle," Sanderson told the committee. "I don’t have a problem following the law when I hit stop signs."

He said the bill would create disparity between how vehicles and bicycles treat stop signs. Sanderson said when drivers see him obeying the current law, that "gives a little bit more respect to cyclists."

Another regular bicycle commuter, Jim Greene, said cyclists recognize their vulnerability and told the committee that if the law is changed, "we’re not going to be trying to play chicken with cars."