What Are Some Of The Actual Laws For Cyclists On Roadways?

By harley erbe

20100317 091502 Crosswalk

There are two topics guaranteed to get Iowans' blood boiling. One is Iowa-Iowa State. The other is motor vehicles versus bicycles. While our law firm can't assist with the football issue, we can certainly with vehicle versus bicycle matters.

Bicycle accidents, especially those that result in the rider's death, are always tragic. Unfortunately, the commentary, from drivers and riders alike, that always follows such events is frequently uninformed as to the actual legal obligations borne by drivers and riders under Iowa law. Particularly for the unprotected cyclists, who have much more to lose from following bad advice, such uninformed recommendations can only increase the risk of vehicle versus bicycle accidents. Therefore I want to focus on cyclists' responsibilities when on public roadways.

Many misperceptions seems to arise from people's lack of knowledge that Iowa's motor vehicle code, Iowa Code Chapter 321, specifically applies in all important respects to bicycles. Cyclists' equal access to roadways comes with an equal obligation to obey most rules of the road in Chapter 321. Iowa Code 321.234(2) provides that "[a] person . . . riding a bicycle on the highway is subject to the provisions of this chapter and has all the rights and duties under this chapter applicable to the driver of a vehicle, except those provisions of this chapter which by their nature can have no application or those provisions for which specific exceptions have been set forth regarding police bicycles." Some of the important Chapter 321 provisions regarding cyclist safety include the location where a cyclist should be located in a lane of travel, where a cyclist should be positioned to pass a vehicle, and which direction a cyclist should be traveling in relation to traffic. Cyclists' obligation to obey traffic signals seems to be something that no one misunderstands or disagrees with, so I won't discuss that. 

Lane position is a frequent topic of debate. Different people have different ideas on where cyclists should be positioned in their lanes on the road. I can't speak to those opinions, but I can state that Iowa Code 321.297(2) requires "[a]ny vehicle proceeding at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic upon all roadways, or as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway, except when overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction or when preparing for a left turn at an intersection, an alley, private road or driveway." Remember that this section equally applies to bicycles. Since bicycles rarely move faster than surrounding traffic, this section requires cyclists to ride as close to the right edge of the roadway as practicable. This section also almost certainly prohibits the common practice of cyclists riding two abreast while being passed by faster-moving traffic.

That leads to a second topic, which is riding against the flow of traffic. There's no specific Iowa Code section that requires cyclists to ride with the flow of traffic, but such a rule is certainly implied by the section quoted above, not to mention common sense and survival instinct. As the Iowa Department of Transportation notes, "[m]otorists and other cyclists aren’t looking for a bicyclist on the wrong side of the roadway.  Riding on the wrong side increases the likelihood and severity of head-on collisions." 

Finally, there's the issue of safe passing. I'm not sure that all cyclists consider themselves to be "passing" vehicles when they weave through or ride down the middle of stopped traffic, particularly at traffic lights, but they are. The rules for passing vehicles in Iowa Code sections 321.299-321.304 equally apply to bicycles, particularly the rules requiring passing on the left, not in the middle or on the right as cyclists sometimes do.

Please feel free to contact us if you need the assistance of a Des Moines car accident lawyer or Des Moines personal injury lawyer .

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