The Rights And Duties Of Bicyclists Under Iowa Law

In my last post I wrote about how Iowa law affects motor vehicles, pedestrians, and their interactions with each other. Bicyclists, who technically become pedestrians when they dismount and walk their bikes, also have certain rights and duties under Iowa law. Some of the laws specifically cover bicyclists; other laws generally apply to all traffic on the road, including bicycles. In general, the Iowa Code imposes the same rights and duties on bicyclists as it does motor vehicle operators, except for statutory rules that only apply to motor vehicles.

First, Iowa Code 321.281 specifically governs the actions of motor vehicle operators against bicyclists:  (1) A person operating a motor vehicle shall not steer the motor vehicle unreasonably close to or toward a person riding a bicycle on a highway, including the roadway or the shoulder adjacent to the roadway; and (2) a person shall not knowingly project any object or substance at or against a person riding a bicycle on a highway. Violation of this code section is a misdemeanor. 

Second, the same rules that govern motor vehicle operators when they pass another vehicle equally apply to passing a bicycle, which is considered a vehicle for the Iowa Code sections that concern passing on roadways. Iowa Code 321.299 mandates that "the driver of a vehicle overtaking another vehicle proceeding in the same direction shall pass to the left thereof at a safe distance and shall not again drive to the right side of the roadway until safely clear of the overtaken vehicle." Iowa Code 321.302  provides additional rules for passing:  "(1) Unless otherwise prohibited by law, the driver of a vehicle on a roadway with unobstructed pavement of sufficient width for two or more lines of traffic moving in the same direction as the vehicle being passed may overtake and pass upon the right of another vehicle which is making or about to make a left turn when such movement can be made in safety; (2) unless otherwise prohibited by law, the driver of a vehicle may overtake and, allowing sufficient clearance, pass another vehicle proceeding in the same direction either upon the left or upon the right on a roadway with unobstructed pavement of sufficient width for four or more lines of moving traffic when such movement can be made in safety; and (3) the driver of a vehicle shall not drive off the pavement or upon the shoulder of the roadway or upon the apron or roadway of an intersecting roadway in overtaking or passing on the right or the left."

Third, Iowa Code 321.384 requires bicycles to have a headlamp and a taillight for use when it's dark and at other times when lights are necessary for visibility. Iowa law mandates that all bicycles have a lamp on the front beaming a white light that's visible from at least three hundred feet to the front and a lamp on the rear on the rear of the bicycle exhibiting a red light visible from a distance of three hundred feet to the rear. A red reflector may be used instead of a rear light.

Finally, the hand signals that some bicyclists use are actually required by Iowa Code 321.318. A bicyclist's hand signals are supposed to be given from the left side of the bicycle. The Iowa Code recommends the basic bicycle hand signals that many cyclists are familiar with.

If there's a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit because of a bicycle/vehicle accident, an important issue will be each party's compliance with their respective Iowa Code obligations. Bicyclists who are hit while violating one of their obligations as a cyclist may find that their legal recovery is barred or significantly reduced through their own fault, as manifested through their failure to obey Iowa's bicyclist laws. And drivers who violate a rule of the road, especially Iowa Code 321.281 and its special protections for cyclists, are guaranteed to be found liable and face substantial money damage exposure, especially if they plead guilty to or are found guilty of a criminal offense related to the bicycle accident.

Harley Erbe