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Iowa Bicycle Laws

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On December 26, 2022, a 27-year-old bicyclist was killed in a hit-and-run accident involving a pickup truck in Cherokee, Iowa. This incident would later join the three bicyclist fatalities that previously occurred in the same year, as recorded by the Iowa Department of Transportation in its report for December 30, 2022. These four fatalities are significantly fewer than the state’s previous record of 11 and 10 bicycle-related deaths for 2021 and 2020, respectively. Regardless, Iowa continues to promote rules and enforce laws that focus on mitigating the possible dangers that bicyclists may face on state roads.

Currently, Iowa has a number of traffic regulations for bicyclists, ranging from reminders involving helmet use to proper steps on how to navigate a road alongside other vehicles and pedestrians. These guidelines are in place to ensure that bicyclists are able to protect themselves from potential harm and prevent them from causing a crash or collision. In case such an accident does happen, Iowa also has insurance regulations and legal statutes to guide victims in preparing an injury claim or lawsuit for the recovery of damages.

Iowa Bicycle Helmet and Equipment Guidelines

To date, Iowa has no ordinance that requires bicyclists to wear helmets when riding bicycles. However, people are still encouraged to wear helmets for protection against potential injuries in case they get into an accident. The state also has a vulnerable road user law that imposes additional penalties on any motorist who causes the injury or death of a bicyclist.

Bicyclists are encouraged to wear light or brightly colored clothing to make themselves more visible to other drivers and pedestrians. Additionally, they can supplement their helmets with other types of protective gear for their knees, wrists, and elbows to further reduce the likelihood of getting injured in case an accident occurs.

In terms of prohibited equipment, no bicycle in Iowa may be equipped with a siren or a whistle. Such attachments are only allowed for bicycles that peace officers use during their line of duty.

Iowa Traffic Guidelines for the Operation of Bicycles

IDOT imposes a number of regulations to ensure that bicyclists avoid any untoward danger while navigating roads alongside other riders and motorists. Additionally, the state treats bicycles as motor vehicles, meaning that all bicyclists must follow the same traffic ordinances that other drivers do. Any bicyclist who violates a traffic law will be penalized in the same way as offending motorists.

The state’s bicycle regulations include the following:

  • No bicycle may carry more people than it was designed to carry.

  • All bicyclists must ride with the flow of traffic on the right side of the road except when they are making a left turn, avoiding other vehicles or obstacles, or overtaking and passing other motorists.

  • All bicyclists must use the proper hand signals to alert other riders and motorists when stopping or making a turn.

  • A bicyclist must first move to the left side of a lane before overtaking a vehicle; they can return to the right side as soon as they have reached a safe distance in front of the vehicle they have passed.

  • A bicyclist must not carry any objects that interfere with their control of their bicycle or their vision while navigating a road.

  • When riding at night, a bicyclist must use a front lamp with a white light and a red light or reflector on their bicycle’s rear; these must be visible from a minimum distance of 300 feet.

  • All bicyclists must stop when coming up to a school bus that has flashing signal lights and its “STOP” swing arm out; they can only proceed once the bus deactivates its lights and retracts its swing-arm.

  • All bicyclists must follow any lane markings and ride in areas that are specified by such markings.

  • Bicyclists may not ride more than two abreast except in designated areas that are intended for the use of bicycles.

  • When approaching a sidewalk while emerging from a driveway or alleyway, a bicyclist must first yield the right-of-way to all pedestrians on the sidewalk; they must also yield to all approaching vehicles on the roadway they are entering.

In terms of bicycle paths, Iowa allows bicyclists to ride on most roadways in the state, though they are required to ride on any provided bicycle paths that are adjacent to a roadway. They are not allowed to ride on interstates and specified controlled-access highways with imposed speed limits, as well as any local streets with ordinances that prohibit the use of bicycles.

Iowa Electric Bicycle Regulations

Iowa also implements different regulations for low-speed electric bicycles within the state because such vehicles function differently from ordinary bicycles. Low-speed electric bicycles are defined as devices that have two to three wheels with operable pedals, a saddle or seat, and an electric motor that has less than 750 watts.

Iowa’s electric bicycle regulations are as follows:

  • Each electric bicycle must have a permanently affixed label that determines its class, motor wattage, and top assisted speed.

  • No owner or operator may modify a low-speed electric bicycle’s engagement or speed capability beyond a classification defined by law; those who have modified their electric bicycle must adjust its affixed label accordingly to display its new classification.

  • A low-speed electric bicycle must be manufactured in such a manner that its electric motor assist stops functioning once its electric motor is disengaged, when the rider stops pedaling, or when brakes are applied.

  • Class 3 low-speed electric bicycles must be equipped with a speedometer that displays their speed in miles per hour.

  • No person under the age of 16 may operate a class 3 low-speed electric bicycle; they may ride as passengers on such bicycles if they are designed to carry more than one person.

  • Low-speed electric bicycles may not exceed posted speed limits on bicycle lanes and multi-use paths or 20 mph in areas with no specified speed limits.

Is Iowa a No-Fault State for Bike Accidents?

No, Iowa follows a fault-based system in which individuals at fault in an accident are liable for the victims' damages. To pay for costs related to a bicycle accident victim’s medical expenses and damaged property, at-fault parties will use their liability coverage, which they are required to have in line with the state’s law on motor vehicle financial responsibility. Under this law, the minimum amounts required for liability coverage are:

  • $20,000 for bodily injury to or death of one person.

  • $40,000 for bodily injury to or death of two or more persons.

  • $15,000 for property damage.

A victim of a bicycle accident can pursue compensation from the offending driver by filing an insurance claim against the person’s insurer or a lawsuit in court. Alternatively, a victim can file a claim with their own insurance company using the applicable policies. Subsequently, the insurer will file a subrogation claim against the at-fault driver’s insurer.

The policies that a bicycle accident victim can use to recover damages may include the following:

  • Collision coverage, which covers repair costs for vehicle damage.

  • Comprehensive coverage, which covers damages caused by non-accident factors (such as vandalism, theft, and falling objects).

  • Uninsured motorist coverage, which covers damages if the at-fault driver in an accident does not have any insurance.

How Much Can Someone Sue for a Bicycle Accident in Iowa?

Iowa does not limit the total amount of compensatory damages that bicycle accident victims can recover. This allows victims to maximize compensation from at-fault drivers in a personal injury claim or lawsuit. Compensatory damages include both economic and noneconomic losses. Examples of economic losses are:

  • Present and future medical expenses.

  • Costs for long-term disability care.

  • Lost wages or loss of work opportunities due to injury.

  • Repair costs for damaged property.

  • Burial costs (if the victim died from their injuries).

Noneconomic losses, on the other hand, include:

  • Pain and suffering

  • Emotional distress or trauma

  • Loss of enjoyment of life

  • Loss of companionship

In addition to compensatory damages, bicycle accident victims may recover punitive damages if there is sufficient evidence that the offending driver acted with wanton or willful disregard for the safety of others and that the driver’s conduct was specifically directed at the victim. Like with compensatory damages, there is no cap on any punitive damages a victim can recover. However, if the defendant is found to have acted with willful or wanton disregard, but there is no evidence that he intended to harm the victim, the latter will only receive 25% of the awarded punitive damages, with the rest being placed in a civil reparations trust fund.

What Is Iowa’s Statute of Limitations for Bicycle Accidents?

The statute of limitations in Iowa for claims or lawsuits related to bicycle accidents is two years, starting from the date of the accident in question. This is relevant to cases of civil assault, in which a person intentionally harms the victim, as well as accidents brought on by negligence. The same two-year deadline applies in wrongful death cases, with the statute beginning on the date the victim died of their injuries.

The statute of limitations is in place to give all parties involved in an accident enough time to prepare and file their respective legal actions. Those who miss the two-year deadline will most likely have their claim or lawsuit dismissed by the court. However, an exception to Iowa’s statute of limitations can apply if the defendant is considered a non-resident or leaves the state. In these scenarios, the defendant’s absence from the state may not be counted toward the deadline.

Similar exceptions may apply to the statute of limitations if those entitled to take legal action in an accident case are under the age of 18 or incapacitated by mental illness. Iowa law provides that these people will have up to one year to file a lawsuit once they turn 18 or when they recover from their mental disability.

Legal Resources for Iowa Bicycle Accident Victims

Iowa State Bar Association

The public section of the Iowa State Bar Association’s website is open to state residents who seek legal assistance or information. The section includes a Find A Lawyer directory that lets website visitors search for specific attorneys based on their location and practice area. It can also redirect people to the Iowa Legal Aid website for information regarding limited-scope representation and how to apply for pro bono help based on their respective concerns. In addition, it has external self-help links for those who seek answers to various legal queries.

Iowa Bicycle Coalition

The Iowa Bicycle Coalition is a statewide organization that educates bicyclists on proper bicycle operation and safety guidelines while promoting cycling for recreational and tourism-based purposes. Its website has a number of accessible resources that discuss both state and metro-specific bicycle laws, as well as bike routes, community programs, and local biking clubs and teams. It also has downloadable copies of guides that cover various topics, such as winter and mountain bicycling, bike theft prevention, and electric bicycles.

Iowa State Patrol Crash Reports

The Iowa State Patrol allows residents to access basic information concerning local motor vehicle accidents and the facts and circumstances involved through its Crash Report website. People can search for a crash report by referring to a specific date, accident type, and county. Each report also specifies which State Patrol District Office website visitors can contact for additional information regarding an accident. Reports may be accessed for free, but they are only available for up to 15 days, after which they will be available at district offices. People can access the Crash Report website’s FAQ section for additional information.

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