02

Blog

Iowa Bicycle Light Law: An Update

Senate File 424 is working its way through the Iowa legislature. If passed, the bill would require bicyclists in Iowa to use a white headlight and red tail light when riding a bicycle at night. Currently Iowa law only requires bicyclists to use a white headlight with either a red rear reflector or a red rear light. If the law passes cyclists would no longer be legal to operate at night without a red rear light.

I think this law is bad for cyclists and good for negligent drivers, and if you’re a cyclist I strongly urge you to oppose this law in its current form. I have handled hundreds of bicycle cases over the years and by far the most effective defense I’ve seen lodged against cyclists after a collision is that they did not comply with statutory lighting requirements when riding at night. If passed, this law will provide yet another defense for negligent motorists to use against cyclists they strike at night.

When someone calls my office to tell me they have been hit by a car while riding their bike I have two questions I ask very early on in the conversation. First, I ask what time it happened to determine if it happened at night. If it happened after dusk I ask the second question, which is, “Did you have a headlight?” This is because the lack of headlight is such an effective defense whatever the circumstances of the collision.

I have been known to say that if you ride your bicycle at night without a headlight motorists can basically do whatever they want to you, say they didn’t see you, then point to the lack of headlight as a statutory violation which is a very effective affirmative defense. The defense will pound the theme home that, “Bicycles are supposed to follow the same rules as cars. You wouldn’t drive a car without headlights, would you?”

Laws passed under the guise of making cycling safer should provide that violation of such laws cannot be used as a defense in civil proceeding. That way law enforcement is empowered to issue tickets to bicyclists for violating the laws, but in the event the cyclist is hit by a negligent driver the cyclist’s claim of negligence against that driver will not be defended on the basis of a statutory violation.

Helmet laws are a good example. Helmet laws are always offered for the purpose of preventing injuries and making cycling safer, however, most helmet laws provide a good defense for a motorist who strikes a bicyclist who fails to wear a helmet. The motorist argues that if the bicyclist had been wearing a helmet they would not have been injured, when in fact, it is often difficult or impossible to determine whether or not the helmet would have prevented the injury. I have seen many cases in which a bicyclist suffered a head injury when wearing a helmet.

The township of Deerfield, IL, took this into consideration when drafting their helmet law. Deerfield instituted a law requiring anyone under the age of 16 to wear a helmet while riding a bicycle. Deerfield did not want negligent motorists using the law to skirt liability so they included language that would prevent the lack of helmet from being used as a defense in a civil suit. The law reads in relevant part, “A violation of this Section shall not constitute negligence, contributory negligence, assumption of risk, be considered in mitigation of damages of whatever nature, be admissible in evidence, or be the subject of comment by counsel in any action for the recovery of damages arising out of the operation of any bicycle, or participation in skateboarding or in-line skating, nor shall anything in this Section change any existing law, rule or procedure pertaining to any civil action.

Head injuries are common in bicycle cases regardless of helmet use. Cyclists who suffer head injuries often cannot remember the events leading up to a collision. In such a case the motorist may falsely claim that the bicyclist did not have proper lighting equipment, and the bicyclist may be unable to refute that claim because they cannot remember the events leading up to the collision. The defense counsel will establish that the cyclist doesn’t remember the events before the accident and ask, “So you have to admit that as you don’t remember the accident you couldn’t know for sure if your lights were on at the time of the accident, right?” Say what you want about how to respond to that question, but you can be sure that it gives the defense something effective to talk about in their closing argument.

If Iowa would like to make its roads safer for cyclists it is fine to add requirements for more lighting equipment, but don’t make it easier for negligent motorists to defend themselves in the process. How about including language that would provide that a failure to use the red rear light cannot be used as a defense? If this law is passed with its currently proposed language it will be harder for bicyclists to recover against negligent motorists. In every night time case where a bicyclist is struck without proper lighting you’ll see the violation used against the cyclist regardless of the circumstances of the collision. Bicyclists are already a vulnerable minority, and it’s already hard enough for a cyclist to try to make a claim against a negligent motorist. If safety is the real concern then the goal of safety should be accomplished by the ability of law enforcement to issue tickets without providing another defense for negligent drivers.

The proposed language of the bill:

1 32   321.397 Lamps on bicycles and bicycle riders.

1 33   Every At the times specified in section 321.384, a bicycle or

1 34 its rider shall be equipped with a lamp on the front exhibiting

1 35 a white light, at the times specified in section 321.384,

2 1 visible from a distance of at least three hundred feet to

2 2 the front and with a lamp on the rear exhibiting a red light

2 3 visible from a distance of three hundred feet to the rear;

2 4 except that a red reflector may be used in lieu of a rear light.

2 5 A peace officer riding a police bicycle is not required to use

2 6 either front or rear lamps if duty so requires.

Comments

Human Shield Bike Lane
Bruce Hagen Jul 29, 2019

If you ride bikes around Atlanta, chances are that you know Niklas Vollmer and Andreas Wolfe.  They’re some of the many people in town who seem to live on their bikes and can be seen riding everywhere.  While they both have their “day jobs,” folks in the cycling world know them for their place in […]

Read More
Bruce Hagen Jul 19, 2019

This is a time when advocacy efforts are crucial to making our streets safer for everyone. Within 24 hours from the Two Wheel Tuesday gathering we suffered two more casualties.  On Wednesday morning, Marten Bijvank was on his way to work on his bicycle when he was struck and killed by an unlicensed DUI driver […]

Read More
AJ's Bicycle Shop in Iowa
Jim Freeman Jul 15, 2019

Bicycling Magazine recently published an article titled, “Hey, Bike Shops; Stop Treating Customers Like Garbage.”  The story follows a heavy-set 59 year old’s sad tale of how he was treated poorly from a number of local bike shops.   First and foremost, I would be clear that bikes are for almost everyone.  If you are big, […]

Read More
Bike accident scene
Rick Bernardi Jul 12, 2019

The big bike news out of the Oregon legislature this year was the passage of a Stop as Yield law. This was an enormous legislative victory for Oregon cyclists, the culmination of over a decade of advocacy. But it wasn’t the only legislative victory for Oregon cyclists this legislative session. A less glamorous but equally […]

Read More
Uber Biking Escort
Charlie Thomas Jul 11, 2019

I often find myself wanting to ride on a roadway corridor that doesn’t want me there. At best, I could make it across alive with some close calls and a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. At worst, I wouldn’t be around to write this blog post.  Of course, a safer, alternate route […]

Read More
Cycling Without Age Bike Law
Brian Weiss Jul 11, 2019

The founder of the Lakewood Bicycle Advisory Team loves his life on two wheels. Gary Harty was born in Bellows Falls, Vermont, and raised in Colorado – Denver Metro area, and now makes bicycling in Lakewood, Colorado safe and fun.  Gary is part of the baby boomer generation. He attended Colorado State University (CSU) and […]

Read More
Rachael Maney Bike Law
Rachael Maney Jul 10, 2019

Outrage.  It is what drives action and engagement on the interwebs these days. If it’s not outrageous, it’s boring. The Election of 2018 proved that outrage increases TOS (“time on site”) more than friendship, sympathy, desire, or anything else.  Judgment. By definition it is necessary to reach any conclusion about anything. But passing it on […]

Read More
Stop as Yield for Cyclists
Rick Bernardi Jul 09, 2019

The Oregon Legislature made national news this past week, for all the wrong reasons. The State Senate, with a super-majority of Democrats in control, had been working on climate legislation which would have Oregon join a cap-and-trade market with California and Quebec. Unable to stop the legislation, Republican Senators fled the state en masse, preventing […]

Read More
Bike Law Alps
Charlie Thomas Jul 07, 2019

It’s Tour de France time. I follow the racing daily through the footage on TV feed and still photos. But I hadn’t ever considered what’s happening on the other side of the camera lens. Like, what actually goes into snapping these pictures that we see documenting the Tour’s happenings? I started to care more about […]

Read More
E Bike and insurance
Lauri Boxer-Macomber Jul 01, 2019

Prologue  Last month, I rode across the Casco Bay Bridge to talk e-bikes and insurance with Bob O’Brien, the Vice President of Noyes, Hall and Allen Insurance in South Portland, Maine.  Although I have yet to invest in an e-bike for myself, I have been captivated by e-bikes and their potential to get and keep […]

Read More
Brooke Nelson
Danny Feldman Jul 01, 2019

Brooke Nelson has been the ride director of the Cheaha Challenge (www.cheahachallange.com) since shortly after the 2014 ride and in the past 5 years, ride participation has increased 188%.  Since 2017 when it became the only UCI Qualifier, Alabama’s biggest ride has become known nationally and internationally.  The 2019 ride had participants from 31 states […]

Read More
Joe Piscitello Jun 20, 2019

Thanks to some outstanding advocacy efforts, both the state of Pennsylvania and the city of Philadelphia have recently scored two important wins for cycling safety. Pennsylvania:  “Dutch Reach” in State Driver’s Manual The “Dutch Reach” method of opening a car door has finally been added to the State Driver’s Manual after many years of conversation. […]

Read More
Load More