• Edward Coutu
  • Tue February 21 2017
  • Posted Feb 25, 2017
Emmetsburg Reporter/Democrat - Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

When will Iowa recognize that bicyclists are vulnerable persons?

The driver who hit and killed a RAGBRAI rider last July has been charged with a misdemeanor. Under Iowa law, a person who steers a motor vehicle "unreasonably close to or toward a person riding a bicycle on a highway" is guilty of a simple misdemeanor, with a maximum penalty of $625 and/or 30 days in jail.

Is that all a person's life is worth?

In 2016, nine bicyclists lost their lives in crashes with motor vehicles, according to the Iowa Bicycle Coalition. In five of the fatal crashes, motor vehicles struck the cyclists from behind, which indicates they failed to safely pass the cyclists. Regardless of the outcome of the crash, the driver in such a crash can be charged only with a simple misdemeanor.

A driver who causes a death while passing a stopped school bus commits a felony. The law recognizes that children getting on and off a school bus are vulnerable. Passing a stopped school bus can result in suspension of the driver's license, and the penalty increases for repeat offenses or if actual harm occurs to a child. Killing a bicyclist carries no greater penalty than passing a stopped school bus when no one is harmed.

While cyclists have a responsibility to follow the laws and ride safely, they may have little or no chance of avoiding a crash with an inattentive driver. And the cyclist, unprotected by a ton or more of metal, will always be the loser in that situation. Since the RAGBRAI rider was hit from behind, the driver should have been able to see him. One must assume the driver was inattentive at best.

The Register sponsors RAGBRAI, and for that week, the roads around the event should be the safest in the state for bicyclists. The crash that July morning ended a man's life, yet the driver faces a maximum fine of $625 and/or 30 days in jail.

Governments at all levels are trying to encourage increased use of bicycles to help the environment. And more of us are riding for exercise and to improve our health. But every time I ride on a "shared" roadway, I'm putting my life at risk.

Many motorists will only recognize the need for caution when passing bike riders if the law reflects the severity of the offense. The driver should at least lose his license until he completes driver education training, including safety of pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists.

How about requiring that he (or she) ride a bicycle for a certain time period to learn what it's like to be passed by vehicles who have no concern for riders?

Let's treat bicyclists, whether adults or children, as the vulnerable people they are by putting teeth in the law to protect them.

Edward Coutu

Emmetsburg, IA






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