Iowa, by and large, treats cyclists in much the same way as drivers and many of the laws around bikes reflect this.
There are several conspicuous gaps in the law, when compared to other states, and for the most part, Iowa seems to have a fairly relaxed and hands-off attitude towards cyclists, so long as they treat the rules of the road as seriously as drivers do. What should you know about bike laws in Iowa?
Riding on the Roads
Iowa does consider cyclists to have the ‘same rights and duties as the operators of vehicles, except provisions that have no application’, though they are not defined as vehicles because they powered by humans, not by a motor. Despite this, bikes have many of the same regulations as drivers and those must be minded to stay legal and safe:
- Cyclists must pass cars on the left, just like cars passing other cars. This means checking to ensure that it is safe to pass and then moving to the right as soon as possible
- Cyclists must ride in the same direction as traffic and as close as possible to the right-hand edge of the road unless preparing to pass or preparing for a left turn at an intersection, alley, private road or private driveway
- Iowa stipulates that cyclists must stop for school buses if the bus has its stop sign out or its lights flashing
- If you see a traffic crash, report it. And if you’re involved in a crash, you have to exchange information with the other person in the crash
- Bicycles are banned from the interstate and some highways are off-limits. Check before you ride if you’re not sure.
- Riding on sidewalks is left up to the city, so make sure to check if you’re not sure
- Iowa does not have any sort of law that sets a specific distance for passing; it’s just governed by general traffic laws
- Interestingly, a police bicycle can ride through a stop sign. (321.231 (3)) Regular riders though must stop at stop signs and unlike in some other states, cyclists cannot ride through a nonresponsive red light.
For the most part, as long as you are riding with traffic and on the right, you’re going to be all right. It’s also important to check the laws for cities if you want or need to ride on a sidewalk to make sure it’s legal.
Safety When Bike Riding
Iowa does not have many laws around gear that must be used while riding. The only real law on the books concerns the use of lighting when riding in the dark:
“A bicycle operated between sunset and sunrise must be equipped with a white light on the front, and a red light or reflector on the rear, both visible for a distance of at least 300 feet.”
Iowa law also stipulates that the bicycle seat has to be properly fitted on the bike and that there can be no more riders on the bike than there are seats; i.e., if you have one seat, you have one rider. Bikes can be equipped with a seat or a trailer for children, but otherwise, it’s one person to a seat.
However, Iowa has no laws around the use of bike helmets. It is not illegal to ride without a helmet, though it isn’t advisable either. Even children can ride without wearing a helmet!
Iowa does have vulnerable user laws which cover cyclists and pedestrians, as well as other vulnerable users. These laws attempt to ensure that vulnerable users are safer on the road by penalizing drivers who are driving in a negligent fashion that results in injury or death. Penalties can range from a revoking of the license to fines.
Iowa and E-Bikes
Iowa, by and large, treats e-bikes as regular bikes. An e-bike falls under the banner of ‘bicycle’ if it has a motor that produces less than 1 horsepower (or 750 watts) and has a maximum speed of fewer than twenty miles per hour without any pedaling by the rider. As long as they fall under that heading, motorized bikes don’t necessarily need to be titled or registered or require a driver’s license.
Mopeds and scooters have their own set of laws which are worth looking into if you’re looking to purchase one.
Cities and State Law
Iowa has fairly skeletal laws around bikes and this allows for (and encourages) cities and municipalities to have their own laws in place regarding cyclists. Local governments can legislate things like sidewalk riding, licensing (and associated fees if relevant), registration, and other things.
Cities and counties can have their own cycling laws unless they conflict with bikes having the same rights and duties as cars in which case, that law supersedes anything on a local level. It’s always important to check local law when you’re going to ride, but it’s even more important in Iowa because every area could treat cyclists slightly differently.
It’s not hard to stay on the right side of the law as a cyclist in Iowa: simply keep in mind that you have the same duties and rights as a vehicle, ride with traffic and stay on the right, and check your local laws for anything that has to be done above and beyond these things! And it bears saying again: it may not be the law to wear a bike helmet, but it’s certainly a good idea.
Have fun biking in Iowa!