On September 14, 2015, Acting Benton County Magistrate Richard Vander Mey ruled in favor of a driver who passed a person riding a bicycle while both vehicles were in a no passing zone. The Iowa Bicycle Coalition is deeply disappointed by the ruling and sees a greater need for the legislature to clearly define the passing of persons riding bicycles.
Neither the defendant or witnesses disputed the fact that the driver passed in a no passing zone. The person riding the bicycle testified he was traveling 20 mph and Strava data following the case has corroborated that fact. The driver also testified to traveling 20 mph, but when viewed from the video cameras mounted to the bicycle, it seems the driver may be traveling much faster than the bicyclist was traveling.
In his ruling, the magistrate attempts to find a reason to allow a motor vehicle operator to pass on a double yellow line. Examples of slow moving equipment and debris in the roadway are presented, and the magistrate writes that passing would enhance public safety. Yet, no testimony or evidence during the trial was presented that an emergency was present that should have been avoided by the driver. There were no oncoming or approaching motor vehicles in the video entered into evidence.
The magistrate writes, “In this instance it appears the Defendant took note of the complaining witness and gave Mr. Phippen a wide berth when making the pass.” People who ride bicycles may not agree with the magistrate’s definition of “wide berth”. If the average person riding the bicycle was asked if their safety was in jeopardy from a pass as recorded in the video, they are likely to agree that it was a dangerous pass. If the motorist was going to violate the law in the no passing zone, the motorist also should have driven on the left side of the road until safely past the bicyclist as also required by the Iowa Code.
In the past 10 years, 22 of the 37 fatal crashes involving bicyclists were overtaking crashes with passing vehicles. A person riding a bicycle that is overtaken by a motor vehicle is at the mercy of the driver who is passing. The court should have been more careful in deciding this case because lives are at stake.
Magistrate Vander Mey wrote, “To find the Defendant guilty, given all the facts and circumstances in this case, would make the rights of cyclists paramount to the rights of those who drive motor vehicles , would not be fair, and would be contrary to the law in this State as understood by the undersigned.”
The Iowa Bicycle Coalition feels strongly that the lives of persons riding bicycles should be paramount to the rights of motorists. The State of Iowa already offers increased fines and protection for the lives of roadway workers. Every Iowan should be afforded due regard for safety while operating on Iowa’s roadways, especially users that are vulnerable to injury or death when crashes occur. If the courts continue to fail to protect the lives of people riding bicycles, then the legislature should make the laws clear for the courts and motorists to understand how to safely pass people riding bicycles.