By Art Roche
I thought it might be interesting to see how bicycles and bicyclists are discussed in the Iowa Driver’s Manual (the state’s instruction manual for people wanting to be licensed to drive an automobile.) I’m referencing the June 2019 revision.
I was happy to see that the word bicycle or bicyclist appears 46 times in the manual.
Please understand that these are not laws about bicyclists (or motor vehicle operators, for that matter.) These are simply instructions for car drivers about watching out for bicyclists. I’ll follow up in a future newsletter about bicycle laws in Iowa and bicycle ordinances in Dubuque and Dubuque County.
The first mention is in the discussion about Driver Education. The thirty hours of classroom instruction should include four hours substance abuse education, and a minimum of 20 minutes (emphasis mine!) on railroad crossing safety, information on organ donation, and information on bicycle and motor cycle awareness.
The section on signage shows the standard color for bicycle and school warning signs:
Fluorescent Yellow-Green, a new color that is much easier to see in low light and foggy/rainy weather. Next in the section on Reserved Lanes, there is a depiction of the bicycle lane sign. “Do not travel in one of these lanes unless operating that type of vehicle.”
When to Yield the Right-of-Way: “Where vehicles or pedestrians are likely to meet one another and there are no signs or signals to regulate traffic, there are rules that say who must yield the right-of-way. These rules tell drivers who goes first and who must wait in different traffic situations. The law says who must yield the right-of-way; it does not give anyone the right-of-way. You must do everything you can to prevent striking a pedestrian or another vehicle, regardless of the circumstances. Be alert for bicyclists. While bicyclists and motorists must share the rights and responsibilities of using public streets and roads, motorists should realize bicycle riders are very vulnerable in crashes. Therefore, motor vehicle drivers should use good defensive driving skills to avoid collisions with bicyclists.”
Intersections: “…You should watch out for bicyclists. Be ready to yield the right-of-way, even at times the bicyclists should yield to you. They have no defense against a car or truck, so it is your responsibility as a driver to watch out for them.”
Space to Cross or Enter: “…Before you pass, look ahead for road conditions and traffic that may cause other vehicles to move into your lane. You might lose your space for passing because of…people or bicyclists near the road.”
Changing Lanes: “…When changing lanes, you should …check for other road users. Remember there are other road users such as motorcycles, bicycles, and pedestrians that are harder to see than cars and trucks. Be especially alert when you are entering the roadway from the curb or driveway.”
The most extensive discussion on bicycles in the Manual is in the section titled “Sharing The Road.” “Bicycle riders are common on Iowa’s roads. You will meet them in cities and on country roads. Bicycles are a recognized form of transportation. Under Iowa law, bicyclists and motorists must comply with the same rules of the road and be given the same rights. Sharing the road means sharing these rights and responsibilities. Just as motor vehicle operators have different levels of skill, you will find bicycle riders with varying levels of skills. When you approach bicycle riders, assess the bicyclists’ capabilities. A skillful cyclist rides predictably and holds a steady line. Common signs of bicyclist inexperience may include:
• riding near the gutter;
• swerving unpredictably;
• ignoring traffic signs and signals; and
• riding without a light at night.
If you see these signs, be ready for any sudden movements by the bicyclist. Give bicycle riders the room they deserve and need for safety. When passing a bicycle rider, pass as if the cyclist were a vehicle and move into the other lane (emphasis mine!). On narrow, two-way roads, wait for a break in traffic before passing. Do not pass if oncoming traffic is near. After passing, cautiously return to your lane – a bicyclist could be in your blind spot. Do not honk your horn or flash your headlights at bicyclists. They may be startled and lose control. Bicycles often travel nearer the right edge of a traffic lane. However, they may swerve to avoid road hazards such as potholes, glass debris, drainage grates, or a strong crosswind. Failure to see bicycle riders can cause vehicle/bicycle crashes. Use extra caution during peak morning and afternoon traffic – the sun’s glare may hide a bicyclist in your path. An experienced bicyclist on a multispeed bike can maintain a speed of 15 to 25 miles per hour on level pavement. When making a right turn near a bicycle rider, move to the far right before turning. If there is a bicycle lane, merge into it to prevent being overtaken by a cyclist. Do not race around a cyclist and make a right turn across his or her path. You may be setting up a collision if the cyclist cannot stop in time. Be sure to check the blind spot over your right shoulder before beginning to turn. Some bicyclists may choose to ride on the street even though there is a bicycle path available nearby. If so, give the rider the needed space. Some studies have shown there are more bicycle collisions on bike paths than on the roadways. Be careful when opening your vehicle door. Road widths can force bicyclists to ride close to parked vehicles where they may be injured by an opening door. Give bicyclists the extra courtesy they need to negotiate railroad tracks and narrow bridges. When in doubt, yield to bicyclists!”
Driver Responsibilities: “Because motorcycles, mopeds and bicycles have narrower tires, they can get caught in cracks easier. Railroad tracks, steel bridge expansion joints, sewer grates, metal grating on bridges and other metal surfaces are dangerous for cyclists. Give riders plenty of room to move around when approaching these road structures.”
Schools, playgrounds and residential streets: “These areas often have children present. Always be alert for them crossing the street, or running or riding bicycles into the street without looking.”
Roundabouts: “…Generally, cyclists should walk their bicycles across the pedestrian crosswalk using the same rules as pedestrians. Experienced cyclists may navigate roundabouts like motorists. Do not hug the curb. Bicyclists using the roundabout should follow the same rules as motorists. Ride in the middle of the lane to prevent vehicles from passing. Yield to pedestrians in crosswalks.”
Watch for the next installment in this series: bicycle laws in Iowa and bicycle ordinances in Dubuque and Dubuque County.