Prevent deaths with stiffer penalties, more awareness

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Days before hordes of bicyclists converge in Iowa for RAGBRAI, Corridor residents have received another horrific reminder of how dangerous roadways can be for those traveling on foot or by bike.

Daniel Lehn, a North Liberty resident and Coe College professor, was struck from behind while riding his recumbent bike on Highway 965 early Tuesday morning. He died from his injuries.

We encourage biking for its many benefits and want to see everyone arrive home safely. We all have a role to play in making sure that happens.

Drivers should be on the lookout for cyclists at all times of the year, but particularly in the summer months. We urge cyclists to carefully choose routes and time of day for their rides. The Iowa Bicycle Coalition has a number of safety tips for drivers and cyclists.

We also renew our call to legislators: Strengthen Iowa laws against distracted driving.

Even though police have not yet released many details about this most recent accident — including whether the driver was using a cellphone or otherwise distracted — there is abundant evidence that Iowa’s texting ban is not working. It’s too narrowly defined; too difficult to enforce. It isn’t making our roadways safer.

Between the time the texting ban took effect in July 2011 and the end of last year, 124 bicyclists and pedestrians have been killed in accidents with vehicles.

Overall, state officials report a 43 percent increase in the number of crashes due to distracted driving between 2014 and 2015, alone. About half of those involved use of a mobile device.

As we’ve advocated in the past, lawmakers should approve a distracted-driving subsection to existing penalties for drivers who fail to maintain control of their vehicle, and make it a primary moving violation punishable by a hefty fine.

In addition, Iowa remains one of only 10 states that has no specific law in place for safely passing a bicyclist, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and mandates that pedestrians, not motorists, yield the right of way in the absence of a crosswalk. Lawmakers should address those shortcomings, as well.

We understand that making something illegal or increasing legal penalties won’t automatically change drivers’ behavior. It also won’t bring back those who already have been killed. But it can help prevent future tragedy.

Sharing the road means sharing responsibility for safety, but drivers in particular need clear direction on how to safely share roadways, and more stringent penalties for not keeping their attention on the road.

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