Since 2011, 21 Iowa bicyclists have been killed in collisions with cars and, according to a review of five years worth of crash data, Iowa drivers who fatally strike bicyclists rarely serve time in jail. Instead many will likely pay a relatively small fine and have their licenses suspended.
The lack of harsher punishments is frustrating to bicycle advocates, but reckless driving charges, which would result in stiffer consequences, are difficult to prove. After reviewing Iowa laws following a fatal accident involving a distracted driver, one Iowa county attorney was perplexed that texting and driving does not qualify as reckless. In fact, unless drivers are drunk, high, drag racing or fleeing from police, their behavior isn’t legally considered reckless in the state.
Iowa’s weak punishments for drivers who hit cyclists are reflected in the state’s mediocre national rankings for bike friendliness, which saw the state drop recently to 28th from 25th. Iowa lacks a number of laws that other states have adopted to protect bicyclists. Among them, a mandated 3-foot safe-passing zone or laws that prohibit motorists from opening their doors as cyclists approach.
While Iowa legislators hesitate to adopt laws to protect bicyclists, the conflict between motorists and cyclists about who belongs on Iowa roads continues. With bike season ramping-up across the state, motorists and bicyclists should exercise caution to avoid an accident. If you or a family member has been injured in a bicycle or pedestrian accident, contact the Des Moines Personal Injury Law Offices of John T. Hemminger for help.
Source: The Des Moines Register, “When Drivers Kill Cyclists — Small Fines, No Jail”, by MacKenzie Elmer, April 25, 2016.
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