DES MOINES, Iowa – When you want to pass another car on the road, you move over to the other lane. But cyclists in Iowa say that’s not the treatment they receive from a majority of drivers.
“We’ve run into problems in the past with courts and law enforcement – some confusion, on how to pass bicycles, and especially after fatal crashes occur. And how charges are applied,” said Mark Wyatt, executive director of the Iowa Bicycle Coalition.
That’s why the Iowa Bicycle Coalition backed a bill at the statehouse that it says would make roads safer for everyone. Bikes are treated as vehicles on Iowa roads, but they aren’t classified technically as “vehicles,” and so cars don’t have to move over to the next lane when passing them. Cyclists say this is extremely dangerous.
“You’re inside a four-wheel box, you’re protected – we’re not,” said Chris Mace, a mechanic at Rasmussen Bike Shop in West Des Moines. “We have two wheels, and this is our protection, it’s us.”
The Des Moines Register’s Iowa Poll shows nearly 70% of Iowans supported a bill that would classify bikes as vehicles, so cars would pass them from another lane. The bill even passed out of the Iowa Senate, but it stalled in a House subcommittee, where it died Friday when it didn’t meet the session’s second funnel deadline. That means it cannot become law this year.
“I think the House’s lack of action on this item kind of showed a, I think, kind of a disregard for where the sport and the industry is today,” said Sen. Matt McCoy (D-Des Moines), who supported the bill. “Bicycles are a part of Iowa, they’ve become as rich as the tradition of RAGBRAI.”
The bill would mean a $100 fine for anyone caught passing a bicyclist on a road without moving over into the other lane. It wouldn’t apply to roads with bike lanes or a paved shoulder.
“We were a bit surprised the bill didn’t pass the subcommittee meeting in the House,” said Wyatt. “We think there’s still a lot of information needed to be shared on this bill, and there’s a lot of education left to do to make sure legislators understand the value of bicycling, especially in rural areas.”
Cyclists say while the bill won’t become law this year, they’re just beginning to raise their voices.
“If I run a stop sign, a cop can pull me over and give me a ticket,” Mace said. “If I run a stoplight, anything like that, drunken driving you can get a ticket and go to jail for. All of those things, you know, it’s the same as in an automobile. So if you’re going to do that to us, why not give us the responsibility of making it safer for us?”
Until safer passing laws are passed, cyclists are asking drivers to do the courteous thing: share the road, and move over to the other lane.