DES MOINES, Iowa — Jo Ann and Peter Bengtson admit that returning to Iowa was really hard. Washington to Iowa is a long way but the distance wasn’t the reason for their hesitation. They originally planned to retire and move to Iowa to be near their daughter, Ellen, who had taken a job as a chemical engineer. Instead, they returned to push for more protections so someone else’s daughter doesn’t suffer the same fate as Ellen.

“When we see cyclists…when I see cyclists…I think…why Ellen?,” Jo Ann Bengtson said, “Why that moment in time? Why was she the lamb that was slaughtered? It was just a few seconds that would have made all the difference. Three feet. And she’d be alive today. So when I see a cyclist I wish them the best. I know they’re out there having a great time. I just wish them safety.”

The Bengtsons spent part of their week at the Iowa Statehouse in Des Moines. They’re pushing legislators to take action that they hope will better protect cyclists on the road. Their daughter died while she rode her bicycle near Charles City on August 2, 2020. They say a driver admitted to authorities that he had looked down at his phone and then didn’t see Ellen in time.

“As a society, I think we need we need to be accountable to each other. And we need to care for each other,” she said, “The culture of just doing whatever you want to do whenever you want to do it just doesn’t work when you’re in a car.”

A judge dropped the criminal case against the driver who hit Ellen, citing a lack of evidence. Peter Bengtson said, “we can’t do anything…He (the accused driver) was tried once and because the case was tried once, he can’t be tried again. But the bottom line is there still remains a safety issue in our community and on our roads.”

The Bengtsons support efforts by the Iowa Bicycle Coalition. Proposals include:

  • Change lanes when passing a bicyclist
  • Drivers should face the same punishments as they would if it was a motorist or pedestrian that was hit
  • Hands-free cell phone use while driving
  • Yield to cyclists in crosswalks

“Distracted driving is no different than drunk driving,” said Peter Bengtson. “And we saw how changing the laws about holding people accountable about drunk driving has changed or created an awareness…You’re driving ‘intexticated’ if you will. You’re under the influence of your phone. That terminology needs to come into play so we can…so we can keep it safe.”