Policy Fellow Cara Hamann

Cara Hamann is an Associate in the Department of Epidemiology at the College of Public Health.  As one of our policy fellows at the Institute for Public Health Practice, Research and Policy, Hamann is creating awareness of how safety for bicyclists can be improved by sharing current research and proposing policy changes. See Strategies to End Fatal Bicycle Crashes in Iowa for a quick recap of recommended policy changes.

Watch new Webinar “Strategies to End Fatal Bicycle Crashes”

The webinar “Strategies to End Fatal Bicycle Crashes,” presented on December 20, 2017,  provides an overview of where Iowa stands in terms of bicyclist crashes and fatalities, the status of the Iowa DOT Bicycle and Pedestrian Long Range Plan, engineering and policy solutions, and priorities and recommendations for the 2018 legislative session. The mother of Sylvia Clark-Hansen, who was killed in a bicycle-motor vehicle crash in October, also shares her story.  ** There are a few slides toward the beginning of the webinar recording that have digital anomalies, but they work themselves out, so please continue to watch!

Panelists in order of appearance include:

Bicycling Safety in Iowa

It is well recognized that premature, low birth weight or sick newborns are more likely to falsely screen positive for one or more of the newborn screening

As bicycling has increased nationally, the rate of bicycling deaths has also increased(1). In Iowa, bicycling fatalities have increased by 266% in the past 2 years(4). Bicyclists have higher crash-related risk of injury and death, due to their lack of physical protection, slow speed, and size differential compared to other roadway users(2).

While increases in bicycling is a healthy trend, efforts to increase bicycling safety are needed. Changes to Iowa code to address distracted driving and motor vehicles overtaking bicyclists can prevent injuries and fatalities.

Key Issue #1 Overtaking

Motorists hitting bicyclists from behind account for an average of 50% of fatal bicycle crashes in Iowa over the past five years(8). Penalties assessed to motorists at fault in these fatal crashes are generally a traffic ticket with an enhanced penalty of a $1,000 fine and 6 month license revocation .

An Iowa Poll conducted last winter indicated 67% of Iowans are supportive of a measure requiring drivers to change lanes to pass bicyclists (9). The survey was conducted for the Des Moines Register/Mediacom  by Selzer & Co and included 804 Iowa adults.

A measure to require vehicles to change lanes to pass bicyclists passed the Iowa Senate last year, but failed to advance in the Iowa House.

Key Issue # 2 Distracted Driving

Learn more about it: Read this recap of the Iowa Bicycling Safety Policy Action Forum, held in December 2016.

Two distracted driving cases were sentenced within days of each other in Polk County and in Mitchell County. The Mitchell County case resulted in the death of a bicyclist. The driver was proved to have been texting while driving and received a $1,000 penalty and license revocation.

The Polk County case, sentenced two days later, was a driver with passengers. The driver was warned by the passengers to stop texting while driving,  yet the driver continued until she rolled the car, severely injuring one of the passengers. This driver received a felony conviction and 2 years probation. The difference is the witness warned the driver of the consequences, which allowed the case to be charged as reckless driving.

Current Iowa laws set texting/electronic device use as a secondary offense and have minimal associated penalties, which means texting that results in death or serious injury is not punished in the same manner as other forms of impaired or reckless driving.

Iowa Specific Bicycle Safety Research

Charges and Convictions – Most Iowa drivers do not receive charges in bicycle-motor vehicle crashes, regardless of fault. Drivers who have a history of traffic-related charges pose an increased danger to bicyclists, compared to the general Iowa driver population.

A study of Iowa Bicycle-motor vehicle crashes found that only 26.5% of drivers were charged and of those, only 41.2% were convicted (7). Drivers who hit a bicyclist or pedestrian also had received 2.8 times more charges in the previous 3 years then drivers from the general population (7).

Infrastructure – Results from a study of 294 sites in Iowa suggest that bicycle lanes and shared lane markings (sharrows) can reduce crash risk by as much as 60% (5). Wider roadways were associated with high bicycle crash risk.  Every 10 feet increase roadway width increased crash risk by 40% (5).

In a sample of Iowa drivers, shared lane markings (sharrows) were found to improve driver positioning during overtaking, especially among older (age 61-80 year-olds) drivers (6). Study results showed that over 80% of drivers did not make a complete lane change when overtaking the bicyclist, regardless of the presence of sharrows (6).


  1. Alliance for Biking & Bicycling and Walking in the United States 2016 Benchmarking Report. 2016; Accessed August 13, 2014.
  2. Iowa Department of Transportation, Traffic and Safety Office, Statewide Crash D
  3. Hamann CJ & Peek- Asa C (2013). On-road bicycle facilities and bicycle crashes in Iowa, 2007- 201 Accident Analysis and Prevention, doi: 10.1016/j.aap.2012.12.031.
  4. Hamann CJ, Wu H, Peek- Asa C (June 21, 2016). Case-control study of drivers who hit l>cyclists or pedestrians, Epidemiology Congress of the Americas, Miami, FL.
  5. Iowa Bicycle Coalition (2016). Bicycle Crash Retrieved November 22, 2016 from https://iowabicyclecoalition.org/bicycle-crash-reports/
  6. Meirc H, T. ( 2016, March 5). Iowa Pg l: Wide support for bike-passing law. The Des Moines Register. Retrieved from www.desmoinesregister.com