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Iowa closes ‘glaring gaps’ in state law on crosswalks
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Iowa closes ‘glaring gaps’ in state law on crosswalks

Iowa drivers will have to yield to cyclists and others on wheels at crosswalks, under a new law Gov. Kim Reynolds signed on May 3.

Before House File 2568, Iowa was one of only twelve states that required motorists approaching a crosswalk to yield only to pedestrians, narrowly defined as “any person walking.” The bill expands the definition of pedestrian to include people using a “pedestrian mode of transportation,” “including but not limited to a wheelchair, stroller, skateboard, scooter, or other similar device.” It also makes clear that motorists must yield to “a person riding a bicycle crossing the roadway” within marked or unmarked crosswalks at an intersection.

Groups representing cyclists, people with disabilities and older Iowans had lobbied for the bill. At a House subcommittee in February, Luke Hoffman, executive director of the Iowa Bicycle Coalition, told lawmakers that the crosswalk bill was his group’s second-highest legislative priority, behind a “hands-free” bill for drivers who use mobile phones.

A LOCK FOR SAFETY ON SEATS

State Representative Thomas Gerhold introduced the bill in the Iowa House and managed it on the floor. During the floor debate in late February, he cited a policy brief from the University of Iowa’s Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Safety Lab that highlighted “glaring gaps” in the existing Iowa code on crosswalks.

According to that report, “between 2018 and 2023, there were 885 crashes in Iowa involving vulnerable road users (bicycles, tricycles, unicycles and pedal cars), wheelchairs and other non-motorists at crosswalks.” Of the nineteen Iowa cities where fifteen or more such accidents occurred during that period, only four (Ankeny, Cedar Rapids, Dubuque and Waterloo) had ordinances protecting cyclists at crosswalks.

The University of Iowa researchers also noted that “many people use crosswalks every day,” and that an estimated 42,700 Iowa households (about 1 in 17) “do not own a motor vehicle.”

During the House subcommittee, Democratic state Rep. Bob Kressig (who was a longtime avid cyclist) recalled being knocked over by a vehicle while riding in a crosswalk. He suffered only a minor injury, but Iowa Bicycle Coalition member Larry Loss told lawmakers he spent 17 days in the hospital and was out for two months after a distracted driver hit him in a crosswalk in May 2022.

As the House of Representatives debated the bill, Republican state Rep. Jon Dunwell spoke about his surgeries and week-long hospital stay after being hit by a truck while riding in a bike path. The House approved the bill by a vote of 84 to eight, with Republicans Ken Carlson, Mark Cisneros, Zach Dieken, Joel Fry, Cindy Golding, Tom Moore, David Sieck and John Wills opposing it.

State Senator Mark Lofgren addressed the bill in the Senate, where it passed unanimously in April.

Following final passage of House File 2568, the Iowa Bicycle Coalition said in a statement that the bill “closes a loophole” and aligns Iowa with some surrounding states, including Nebraska. “Whether you’re out and about as a cyclist, a person with a disability in a wheelchair, a senior on an electric scooter, a child on a skateboard or a parent with a baby in a stroller, it’s a win for all Iowans. .”

BIKE SAFETY LAWYERS ARE ON THE TOP PRIORITY OF THE LEGISLATION

The Governor’s signing of House File 2568 was a fitting way to kick off National Cycling Month. But cycling advocates are already planning to accomplish more next year.

Hoffman told Bleeding Heartland on May 7, “After the passage of the Crosswalk Protections Act, our volunteer leaders feel more motivated than ever to keep their hands free during the next legislative session.” He noted that reducing distracted driving with new restrictions on wearable devices would “dramatically reduce traffic fatalities and accidents in Iowa, save lives and give law enforcement the tools they need to enforce existing law banning texting and while driving is prohibited.”

Lawmakers have introduced many versions of bills in the Iowa House or Senate over the past decade that would restrict cell phone use while driving. During the 2024 session, GOP state Sen. Brad Zaun and state Rep. Phil Thompson tried to combine “hands-free” language with new limits on traffic cameras. The Senate version of that bill passed out of committee, but never came up for a vote in the full House. The House version failed to pass the first “funnel” deadline in February.

Ultimately, the House of Representatives introduced (and the Senate approved) a bill that would restrict local government use of traffic cameras to enforce speed limits, without any provision regarding wearable devices for drivers. The traffic camera bill (House File 2681) is awaiting the governor’s signature.

Hoffman said the “old champions of hands-free” in the Iowa Senate will all return next year. On the House side, several “strong advocates” (including state Rep. Ann Meyer, who introduced hands-free bills) are expected to be back in 2025 as well.