New state law will hold drivers more accountable in pedestrian accidents

IOWA CITY — Legislation which Governor Kim Reynolds recently signed into law expands the definition of “pedestrian” in Iowa, which safety experts say is an enormous win for everyone who uses a crosswalk.

Cara Hamann, director of training and education at the Injury Prevention Research Center, based at the University of Iowa, says broadening the legal description of pedestrian is an important move.

“The law says that a pedestrian is a person on foot, and the new law expands that to pedestrian or pedestrian conveyance,” Hamann says, “and pedestrian conveyance includes things like people in wheelchairs, babies in strollers, people on rollerblades or skateboards, or people on bicycles.”

Hamann is an injury epidemiologist, meaning, she studies crash prevention and outcomes. While the law change won’t necessarily prevent accidents, she says the new distinction of what defines “pedestrian” is key.

“People in vehicles are protected by the big metal surrounding that they’re in, whereas all these other users — or what we call vulnerable road users — don’t have that protection,” she says. “So ultimately, I think it makes sense that drivers should yield to users crossing the road legally in a crosswalk.”

The new law doesn’t take effect for a few months, and while it won’t instantly make crosswalks any safer on July 1st, it will make drivers legally liable for anyone they may strike.

“Before this change, really only people on foot were written into the law, so that means if a driver hit a bicyclist in a crosswalk, they could walk away with no consequences,” Hamann says, “because there’s no law to uphold that says they should have yielded to that bicyclist.”

Hamann, an associate professor in the UI’s College of Public Health, says she’s very encouraged by the expanded legal definition of pedestrian:

“This is a really positive change in the law that moves us toward a better traffic safety culture overall in the state, recognizing that all road users are important and we should take care of each other on the road.”

This is National Bike to Work Week.