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BOONE, IA. — Two fatal bicycle crashes in one week have sent a call for action across Iowa in favor of better road safety legislation and education.

In all of last year, there were three bicycle fatalities in Iowa, down from eight just two years before, according to information from the Iowa Department of Transportation.

But this year the fatality rate is already approaching that of 2012. In a span of a few days, two cyclists were killed in crashes that remain under investigation.

One of the bicyclists was Debbie Ladd’s husband. Paul Ladd, a retired Marine colonel from Boone, died on a county road around 7 a.m. June 24 after being struck by a car driven by Christopher Fawcett of Stratford.

Ladd, 59, died while training for the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.

“RAGBRAI was recognized this year in the Wall Street Journal as one of the top 10 events to do in the summer and yet our state’s bike awareness is lacking and should be better,” Debbie Ladd said as she helped sort funeral flowers at the First Evangelical Free Church in Boone on Saturday, the day after her husband’s funeral.

Ladd’s death followed that of Jerry Williams, 58, of Lenox. Williams died June 22 after being struck by a vehicle driven by Jessica May Brown, also of Lenox.

Iowa lawmakers in recent years have strengthened bicycle safety laws and there has been a dip in fatalities, developments that bike advocates believe are related. But those same advocates also note bicycle-crash injuries are increasing. From 2011 to 2012, injuries spiked by 15 percent, from 406 to 467.

Safety advocates say there are several relatively common-sense initiatives — such as a legislative proposal that motorists stay at least 3 feet away from bicyclists when passing — that even if rarely enforced through fines would serve as educational tools in driver education classes and license exams.

House File 244, which contained the 3-foot proposal, stalled in this year’s legislative session. Supporters hope it’s picked back up next year.

“It’s a common-sense law and we’ve heard the argument that maybe it’s too common-sense,” said Mark Wyatt, executive director of the Iowa Bicycle Coalition. “However, laws are made up of common- sense things like stop signs and speed limits.”

Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, who was one of the sponsors of the 3-foot bill, said she couldn’t help wondering whether stronger laws would have prevented the June crashes.

She is also advocating for more bike lanes in the state, which some studies have shown help reduce accidents.

Steckman is frustrated that the 3-foot bill didn’t advance in this year’s legislative session.

“I feel like there’s a faction in Iowa of people who believe bikes don’t belong on the road and that they should get out of our way,” Steckman said in explaining why the legislation, which would have mandated a fine of $100 for a first offense without injury, stalled.

Georgia Pease-Libbie echoed that sentiment.

“I don’t understand why there’s rage towards cyclists,” said Pease-Libbie, president of the Des Moines Cycle Club. “And, with cyclists, we’re not talking about dirtbags. We’re talking about your mom, grandmas, lawyers, doctors, your sister and brother. We’re talking about nice people.”

But Iowa lawmakers haven’t simply ignored the issue.

In 2010, the Legislature passed a law that requires drivers to keep a “safe and reasonable distance” from bicyclists. The 3-foot rule would give more precision to the law, Steckman and others said.

Allyson Ladd, who introduced her father to RAGBRAI a few years ago, said she understands how drivers can become frustrated when they encounter bicyclists on roads. That’s particularly true if those riders don’t take safety precautions such as wearing reflective gear or headwear that her father was a huge proponent of, she said.

“I think everybody deserves the same amount of respect on the road,” Allyson Ladd said. “But everybody needs to be doing anything they can” to assure road safety.


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