DES MOINES — Iowa lawmakers broke from the 2020 session starting line with a truckload of transportation-related changes designed to address “left-lane campers,” rural highway rumble strips and seat-belt safety for back-seat passengers.
Members of a Senate transportation subcommittee voted 3-0 Wednesday to advance legislation seeking to make it a finable offense for slower-moving motorists who fail to leave the left lane of a four-lane highway when an approaching vehicle traveling at a faster speed attempts to pass.
“This bill would just say to those people in the left lane, if you know somebody’s coming, you have to yield the way,” said Sen. Zack Whiting, R-Spirit Lake, who managed Senate File 389 in subcommittee. “The overall goal of it is to help the efficient flow of traffic.”
S.F. 389 requires a person operating a vehicle in the left-most land of the roadway to make a lane change to the immediate right if the person knows or should know that another vehicle will overtake the person’s vehicle.
Exemptions apply to road construction workers or emergency personnel in the course of their duties; when traffic conditions prevent a lane change; when there is a legally established obstruction — such as a traffic-control device — and when exiting on the left side of the roadway.
Failure to comply would result in a $100 scheduled fine, according to the legislation.
If a violation resulted in serious injury, the penalty would be a $500 fine and/or a 90-day driver’s license suspension, while a resulting death would carry a $1,000 fine and/or a 180-day license suspension for a violation.
“This bill is addressing left-lane camping,” said Whiting. “The idea is that it kind of speeds up the flow of traffic. If people are in the left lane and have their cruise control set at 60 mph but the flow of traffic is going 65, necessarily people are going to have to pass them.”
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According to data included in a Legislative Services Agency fiscal note, there were 37 violations for failing to yield to a passing vehicle under current law and 25 violations for passing on the wrong side in fiscal 2019.
Citations are expected to increase by the creation of a new violation.
Sen. Todd Taylor, D-Cedar Rapids, said he supports legislation addressing “rolling roadblocks,” saying, “I want people to move over so we don’t have this left-lane camping thing, but we need signage and education to get the word out.”
SEAT-BELT LAW EXPANSION
Whiting also managed a separate measure, Senate File 2012, which would expand Iowa’s current seat-belt law to require that all passengers in both the front and back seats wear a seat belt, restraint or ride in a safety seat.
Currently, the back-seat requirement only applies to passengers aged 17 and younger.
Legislators were approached by medical personnel who encounter injuries caused by unbelted back-seat passengers slamming into front-seat occupants during vehicle accidents that could be prevented if all riders were wearing seat belts.
“The goal and intent of it is to keep people safe,” Whiting said. “I used to think about seat belts this way — well, as a pro-liberty guy, if I’m not wearing my seatbelt, I’m not hurting anybody but myself.
“As I’ve learned sadly through this, that’s not always true,” he said. “If somebody in the back comes up and hits me, it’s dangerous for everybody on the road.”
A companion bill has been introduced in the Iowa House this session as well by Rep. Megan Jones, R-Sioux Rapids.
“If we have those people secured and tucked into their belts, then we have less likelihood that they’re going to fly into someone else who may be properly belted in but still faces injuries because of that flying person in the back seat,” Jones said. “For a lot of people, I think this is a non-issue. They just buckle in, they’re so used to it. Kids are so (accustomed) to being in car seats for so long, I think it’s just natural, it’s just a habit.”
Rumble Strips On Paved Roads
Another House measure dealing with a transportation issue was filed by three representatives who had fatal mishaps in their districts where collisions occurred at rural intersections.
The measure, House File 2004, would require the construction and maintenance of rumble strips for paved county roads with a 55 mph speed limit where they intersect with a major state or U.S. highway to alert drivers to the approaching stop sign.
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“I think having a rumble strip, which is a completely different sensory perception than the visual of a stop sign, I think would help tremendously,” said Rep. Dean Fisher, R-Montour, one of the bill’s sponsors. “I don’t like mandates, but just like you’ve got to have stop signs at those intersections, I think we need to have rumble strips. I think that they will save many, many lives.”
Fisher said such safety measures are now located at the discretion of state Department of Transportation officials, but he believed rumble strips could be installed by cutting grooves in the pavement a certain distance from the intersection at a relatively low cost.
Sponsors believe the rumble strip additions would help address drivers who are distracted by electronic devices or sleepy as their vehicles approach sometimes busy intersections.
“If you run a stop sign at one of those intersections, you’re almost guaranteed to hit somebody,” he said. “On a country road, unfortunately, people do fall asleep or look at their phones.”
Removing 2-Mile Restriction
Also Wednesday, a Senate agriculture subcommittee approved legislation that would remove a two-mile limit from an originating farm for drivers under the age of 16 who are operating farm implements on rural roadways and driving to an adjacent property.
“Farms have grown and two miles is really restrictive and really doesn’t fit with where farms are today so we just removed the two-mile restriction on implements of husbandry to and from farms,” said Sen. Dan Zumbach, R-Ryan, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
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