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For a bike rider, coming to an intersection with a four-way stop can be risky. You may not be able to tell for sure if the car to your left or the vehicle across the street is about to turn into your path when you start up again. That is why many Seattle riders would prefer to coast through stop signs if there is no cross traffic. Thanks to a new Washington State law that went into effect in September, they can.

The new law applies to intersections with stop signs. Riders can now treat those as yield signs. If there are no motor vehicles to yield to, a bicyclist can keep moving without having to come to a complete stop. Besides letting riders maintain their momentum, the new rule could reduce bike accidents in Washington, supporters say.

Why this law change matters

Under the old rule, a rider stopped at a four-way stop intersection could have been next to a driver who was planning to turn right. But not only might that driver have failed to put their turn signal on to let the rider know, they might also have tried to turn without checking their side mirror first. If a vehicle turns right in front of a bicycle, the rider must slam on the brakes and hope they don’t run into the vehicle or get hit by it. A similar bike crash could happen if a driver turning left fails to yield to a rider who reached the intersection first.

The change in the law does not apply to intersections with street lights. There are also exceptions for school buses with their stop signs extended, and at railroad crossings.

One of the major reasons for serious bike accidents

Hopefully, this law will prevent many bike accidents from happening. But it will not eliminate them, unfortunately. Riders in Seattle do what they can to protect themselves, but they still must rely on motorists to be alert, careful and respectful of bicycles’ right of way. Too often, a driver does not live up to their legal responsibilities. Serious injuries to the rider are the result.