Iowa Counties Urge Lawmakers to Consider Bicycle Exemption

December 4, 2007

Iowa’s county supervisors have informally agreed to pressure the Iowa Legislature for an exemption from any future court cases involving bicycles on county roads.

The supervisors’ decision follows a $350,000 settlement in a Crawford County lawsuit filed after a man died during the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa in 2004.

A proposal expected to go before legislators next year would insert one sentence in state law exempting counties and cities from legal action “by a person injured while operating a non-motorized vehicle, if the road was designed, constructed and maintained as required for motor vehicle traffic.”

Dozens of county leaders participating in a conference Friday raised their hands when asked whether they would support the legislation. The resolution states that Iowa counties face “an unacceptable exposure to future bicycle-related lawsuits” and asks the Legislature to address the issue next year. Otherwise, counties will have to regulate cycling on county roads themselves, the resolution states.

Crawford County’s insurance company recently paid the $350,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the widow of the man who died when he was thrown from his bicycle after hitting a crack in a Crawford County road. The county did not admit negligence in settling the lawsuit but decided to not let RAGBRAI use its roads in the future.

County officials say the settlement illustrates a looming threat to their budgets, since it’s financially impossible to maintain roads in a way that won’t be hazardous to bicycles.

David Vestal, a lawyer for the Iowa State Association of Counties, has said he’s spoken to eight to 10 counties that are interested in passing bans similar to Crawford County’s, but the association is advising those counties to see whether a solution can be reached first.

T.J. Juskiewicz, director of RAGBRAI, has said the challenge will be to draft a law that would ease county fears but still consider bicyclists’ rights.

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