Idaho’s Potato Laws


Rules of the Road for Cyclists

By Rachel Holt

According to 2011 survey by the U.S. Census, there are 2,470 bicycle commuters in Boise or 2% of commuters. As there have been more and more bicycle and car related accidents on the road, the rules for bicycles seem unknown to both cyclists and motorists alike.

“I’m always super paranoid about getting hit (in the road). But I hate riding on the sidewalk,” says Steve Cloud, a local commuter who utilizes a bicycle.

Joshua Saak, a Traffic Engineer for Ada County Highway District (ACHD), also a bicycle commuter says, “A motorist is going to see a cyclist act what they perceive as unlawfully. A bicyclist passes through a stop sign. They are not in conflict with anything. A motorist will see that and think they are breaking the law. There are also cyclists who will take advantage of it. Neither of which are correct.”

Unlike other states, Idaho has written our bicycle rules into both the City and State Code. “Those are as far as I know unique for any state in the United States. I’ve heard it called the Idaho Potato Laws, Idaho Stop Laws, I’ve heard it called a number of different things,” says Saak.

In 1988, Idaho added Title 49 Chapter 7 to the Idaho Code, which outlines conduct for bicycles riding on the road. These rules may not be what you expect given that one would assume that a cyclist must follow the same rules as a car. In fact, the rules for cyclists are a little different, they center on the idea of “conflict” between a bicycle and a car.

For example, when approaching a stop sign, a cyclist may treat the sign as a yield sign and doesn’t need to stop unless there would be a conflict with a car. If a bicycle approaches an intersection and a car would turn in front of the bicycle, that is a conflict and the cyclist must stop at the stop sign. If there were no cars at the intersection or if there is no conflict between the path of the bicycle and a car then the cyclist may proceed without stopping.

Stoplights act as stop signs for a cyclist. They must stop briefly at a red light but are free to proceed so long as it is safe to cross i.e. there is no conflict between the traffic that does have the green light or right of way.

Despite these special rules, cyclists in the road are still expected to ride with traffic and follow standard traffic patterns.

In addition to the rules for the open road, there are some rules for cyclists on the sidewalk as well. According to Tom Shuler, a member of the Boise Police Department Bike Patrol Team, when cyclists are on the sidewalk they are a pedestrian and must follow the rules for pedestrians. When on the sidewalk cyclists are expected to wait at crosswalks to cross just like any other pedestrian. Cyclists are to also give audible warnings and slow down when passing other parties on the sidewalk or greenbelt. Shuler also encourages cyclists to still ride with traffic even when on the sidewalk. It makes a cyclist more predictable for motorists.

The next time you take to the road in a car, remember that you are sharing it with 2,470 cyclists and they are sharing it with you. While Idaho’s “Potato Laws” may be special it doesn’t make cyclists impervious to the rules.