TOM MCMAHON , Staff Writer
Pottawattamie County Attorney Matt Wilber said the Iowa Supreme Court  has set the bar high when it comes to criminal liability for automobile collision deaths. The executive director of the Iowa Bicycle Coalition said his organization wants to lower it.
Mark Wyatt said the IBC plans to propose legislation to the 2008 Legislature that would increase penalties for drivers whose actions result in serious injury or death. He said a gap exists that needs to be closed.
In June, a Cass County man's vehicle stuck Atlantic bicyclist David Harris, 39, from behind. Harris was thrown from the bike and killed. The driver was cited for following too closely  and paid a $100 fine.
That same month, two cyclists in Dallas County were struck from behind and seriously injured. No charges or citations were issued. 
An officer who investigated the collision told Des Moines television station KCCI the driver did not see the two men. 
"They were side by side but could have been single file, which would have helped a little bit. Maybe one of them could get away," the Sgt. Mark Casey  said. "They have a right to be on the road like everybody else. When you've got 4,000 or 6,000 pounds (of vehicle), the odds are against you.  This isn't the first time this has happened. I hope it's the last time, but I know it won't be." 
Cass County Attorney Dan Feistner said he decided to file the charge in Harris' case after consulting with the investigating officer  from the Iowa State Patrol. He said the incident did not meet the definition of careless or reckless driving. 
Wilber said unless the driver is drunk or driving extremely recklessly , following too closely or failing to yield would be the likely citation.
"If a person runs a stop sign and accidentally kills someone , they would probably get a ticket for running a stop sign," he said. "We do not generally criminalize accidents." 
Wilber said the Iowa Supreme Court has set a high standard for proving someone was driving recklessly. He said while the driver might not face criminal liability, these type cases often end up in civil court.
Des Moines attorney and bicyclist Kim West said prosecutors should be more aggressive in filing charges . He rode his bike to Harris' funeral to raise awareness of cyclists' deaths.
"It is convenient to say we don't have laws with teeth in them," he said. "But an attorney can find a section of the Iowa code that applies. In my mind, following a bicycle too closely with a car is reckless driving."
While Wyatt said IBC does not yet have a draft of its proposed legislation, he said it would suggest an intermediate charge when a collision causes serious injury or death. Feistner said he would be interested in reviewing any proposed legislation regarding bicycles on the state's roadways.
"We have a problem with our traffic laws and how they are applied in some cases," Wyatt said. "It is important that motorists take their responsibility seriously. It's not just hitting people on bicycles. It's people talking on cell phones or eating while they're driving and not paying attention."
He noted a recent Iowa City incident where a woman who was distracted by her children's yelling drove her car into the Iowa River. Bystanders pulled the mother and her two children out of the icy water.
"People are not paying attention and it can result in someone's death," he said.
The homicide conviction carries a 25-year sentence.]