After two hit-and-run crashes involving Iowa bicycle riders in recent weeks, the leader of the Iowa Bicycle Coalition is sending a letter to Governor Culver, asking for roadway safety to become a higher priority. Coalition executive director Mark Wyatt, of Iowa City, says state officials need to take notice of the tragedies and inequities in Iowa’s transportation system, which is heavily dominated by motor vehicles.
“I think this is everything from prosecution of bicycle crashes to facilities to looking at how we do law enforcement,” Wyatt says. “The state needs to take a real leadership role in this situation to increase roadway safety, not just for bicyclists but for everybody that uses the road.”
A bicycle rider from Des Moines was killed by a hit-and-run driver late last month while a cyclist from Marion was struck and critically hurt last week near Cedar Rapids by another hit-and-run driver. They’re the latest in a series of collisions in Iowa involving bikes — and pedestrians. Wyatt acknowledges some motorists are trying to ban bicycle riders from so-called “farm-to-market” roads, but he says that’s clearly not the answer.
“I don’t think we’re moving one user group or another from the roadways really the way to address safety,” Wyatt says. “There’s a lot of tools in the toolbox we can use and I think there’s a lot of plans at the state level that could be implemented and maybe implemented more rapidly to try to help increase safety for non-motorized transportation.” An arrest was made last week in the fatal hit-and-run crash in Warren County, and the driver faces charges of leaving the scene and concealing evidence. Wyatt says it’s an “outrage” that penalties against motorists who kill bike riders aren’t more severe.
“The Iowa Code doesn’t really address it that way,” Wyatt says. “There’s no specific mode of transportation and it applies equally to vehicles including bicycles and pedestrians,” Wyatt says. “It’s really unusual when bicycle crashes seem to have all the lightest penalties applied to them when the bicycle’s involved.”
Wyatt says prosecutors need to better understand the penalties. When a crash occurs, he says the Iowa Bicycle Coalition sends a letter to the county attorney to educate them on the section of code that refers to serious injuries and deaths. He says there’s a small fraction of motorists — and of cyclists — who simply don’t obey the traffic laws. He says all motorists, and bicycle riders, should brush up on their safety skills.
“I think 95% of our drivers are really doing all the right things and being safe out there,” Wyatt says. “It’s just a small, small sliver of drivers that really need to emphasize safety a little more closely. I think everybody needs to pay attention to the rules of the road and increase safety because these are our friends, our families and our neighbors who are out there using Iowa roadways.