• Sun June 29 2008
  • Posted Jun 29, 2008
The Register's editorial During the 2004 Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, a rider died after he struck a center crack on a road and was thrown from his bike. The section of road was maintained by Crawford County, whose insurance company eventually paid $350,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by his widow. The incident prompted David Vestal, attorney for the Iowa Association of Counties, to recommend counties require organized bike rides to obtain liability insurance and have the county listed as a party insured on the policy. Next week, the Dallas County supervisors will consider just such a requirement for organized rides with 20 or more participants. If passed, sponsors of qualifying events would have to maintain a $1 million liability insurance policy, and violators could be fined at least $750. Dallas County - and all other Iowa counties - should not pass such an ordinance. Among the reasons: - It would discourage small bike rides. This ordinance isn't about RAGBRAI, which attracts thousands of riders and has the resources to purchase insurance. It would harm smaller events, such as fundraisers and rides that raise awareness about issues. According to Jeff Mertz, a cyclist and former Waukee city councilman, charity fundraisers would have difficulty affording insurance costing from $300 to $3,000. - It's unnecessary. According to Brad Lint, executive director of the Iowa Trial Lawyers Association, current law already provides immunity for counties against lawsuits related to the design or construction of a roadway - which would include the center crack on roads. Such cracks are intentionally designed to allow for expansion and contraction of roads when weather changes. The Crawford County case was unique because the county knew there was a hazardous situation on the roadway that had already led to an injury, according to Lint. It accepted the responsibility of warning cyclists, but then abandoned that duty, he said. Besides, such coverage unfairly targets a small group of people. It would provide no protection for a county when an individual rider - or anyone in a group smaller than 20 people - heads out on a bike, hits a pothole and gets injured. - It's overkill. Say a group of people wants to put together a ride to raise money for a special cause. The group will have to find an insurance company and buy a policy that names the county (as well as officers, employees, agents and representatives as additional entities insured by the policy). A private group of citizens would end up insuring a government entity. And what's next? If other counties follow suit, will they define an "organized" ride as three people? And where will it end? Will counties require organized walks or classic-car rallies or a group of motorcycle riders or a funeral procession to provide similar insurance? - It moves the state in the wrong direction. Requiring cyclists to purchase insurance for a government may result in the government having less incentive to ensure roadways are safe for organized rides. "We're trying to be bike-friendly in Dallas County," said county engineer Jim George. "We have more trails than anyone in the state. On the other hand, our roads are not built to bicycle standards." That's something many riders know all too well. And it's unfortunate. But the goal of counties should be to make roads suitable for cyclists. The goal should be to encourage cycling and make it as safe as possible. An ordinance like the one Dallas County is considering doesn't work toward that. Worse, it sends a message that bikers aren't welcome - or safe - on public roads.

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