Iowa Car Accident and Personal Injury Laws



If you've been injured in a car accident in the State of Iowa, you may have questions about how the laws will affect your property damage and/or personal injury claim. In this article, we'll review the laws most commonly associated with car accidents. To read the entirety of each law, click the link to the specific State of Iowa statutes in each section.

Here are the Iowa car accident and traffic laws we'll cover:

Pedestrian Laws

Pedestrians and Crosswalks

When traffic-control signals are not in place or in operation, the driver of a vehicle must stop and yield the right of way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a marked or unmarked crosswalk.
Section 321.327

Pedestrian Control Signals

Whenever special pedestrian control signals, exhibiting the words Walk or Don't Walk or the symbols of a walking person or an upraised palm are in place such signals shall indicate as follows:

  1. Walk or Walking Person. Pedestrians facing such signal may proceed across the roadway in the direction of the signal and shall be given the right of way by the drivers of all vehicles.
  2. Don't Walk or Upraised Palm. No pedestrian shall start to cross the roadway in the direction of such signal, whether flashing or steady. Any pedestrian who has partially completed the pedestrian's crossing on the Walk or Walking Person signal shall complete the crossing to a sidewalk or safety island while the Don't Walk or Upraised Palm signal is showing.
Section 321.258

Crossing at Other Than Crosswalks

Pedestrians intending to cross a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles on the roadway.
Section 321.328

Pedestrians on Roadway

Pedestrians shall at all times when walking on or along a highway, walk on the left side of such highway.
Section 321.326

Drivers to Exercise Due Care

The driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian upon any roadway and shall give warning by sounding the driver's horn when necessary and shall exercise proper precaution upon observing any child or any confused or incapacitated person.
Section 321.329

Driving Laws

Obedience to Traffic Control Devices

A driver must obey any traffic control devices applicable to the driver, unless directed by a traffic or police officer.
Section 321.256

Driving on Right Side of Roadway

Drivers must drive in the right lane of roadways with the following exceptions:

  • When passing another driver in the same direction
  • When there is an obstruction in the right lane
  • Upon a roadway restricted to one way traffic
  • Upon a roadway with three marked lanes of traffic
Section 321.297

Passing On the Left

Driver proceeding in the same direction must pass to the left at at a safe distance and shall remain in the passing lane until it is safe to return to the right lane. Drivers being passed must not increase the speed of their vehicle until their vehicle is completely passed by the overtaking car.
Section 321.299

Limitations on Overtaking on the Left

Drivers may drive to the left side of the center of the roadway in overtaking and passing another vehicle only if the left side is clearly visible and the overtaking vehicle can return to its lane without coming within one hundred feet of oncoming traffic.
Section 321.303

Passing On the Right

Drivers may pass on the right under the following conditions:

  • When the driver about to be passed is about to make a left turn. However, the driver attempting to pass on the right must not do so without driving off the pavement of main-traveled portion of the roadway.
  • When the roadway has two (2) or more lanes of traffic moving in the same direction.
  • On a one-way street where the roadway is free from obstructions and wide enough for two or more lines of moving vehicles.
Section 321.302

Following Too Closely

A driver must not follow another driver more closely than is "reasonable and prudent", having due regard for the speed of other drivers and traffic conditions along the roadway. A driver who is towing another vehicle must leave sufficient space ahead of their vehicle to allow an overtaking vehicle to enter and occupy this space without danger.
Section 321.307

Drivers and Mobile Electronic Devices

Drivers are not permitted to not use hand-held electronic communication devices to write, send, or read a text message while driving a motor vehicle unless the motor vehicle is at a complete stop off the traveled portion of the roadway.
Section 321.276

Drivers and Intersections

When two (2) drivers approach an intersection at approximately the same time the driver on the left must yield to the driver to their right.
Section 321.319

Drivers Intending to Turn Left at Intersections

A driver who intends to turn left at an intersection, or into an alley, private road or driveway must yield the right of way to drivers approaching from the opposite direction.
Section 321.320

Drivers Entering or Crossing a Roadway

A driver about to enter or cross a roadway from any place other than another roadway must yield the right of way to all other vehicles on the roadway to be crossed.
Sections 321.321 and 321.322

Bicycling Laws

Bicyclists must obey the same traffic laws as drivers of cars, and are subject to the same penalties as are drivers for violating traffic laws.
Section 321.234

Motorcycling Laws

Motorcycles

Motorcyclists must obey the same traffic laws as drivers of cars, and are subject to the same penalties as are drivers for violating traffic laws.
Section 321.275

Motorcyclists and Lanes of Traffic

Motorcyclists are entitled to the full use of a traffic lane and drivers must not take any action to deprive a motorcyclist of his or her right to use a full lane on a roadway. A motorcyclist must not pass another driver in the same lane. Motorcyclists must not ride more than two (2) abreast in a single lane.
Section 321.275

"Lane Splitting"

Motorcyclists must not pass another driver in the same lane. Commonly known as "lane splitting," motorcyclists sometimes attempt to pass other drivers when traffic is slowed, or bumper to bumper. To move forward through traffic motorcyclists sometimes drive between cars. Doing so is not only illegal, but quite dangerous.
Section 321.275

Motorcycles and Headlights

From sunset to sunrise, motorcyclists must not operate a 1977 or later model year motorcycle upon the roadways without displaying at least one lighted headlamp.
Sections 321.275, 321.384, and 321.386

Driving Offenses and Accident Requirements

Careless Driving

A person commits careless driving if the person intentionally operates a motor vehicle on a public road or highway in any one of the following ways:

  • Creates or causes unnecessary tire squealing, skidding, or sliding upon acceleration or stopping.
  • Simulates a temporary race.
  • Causes any wheel or wheels to unnecessarily lose contact with the ground.
  • Causes the vehicle to unnecessarily turn abruptly or sway.
Section 321.277A

Reckless Driving

A driver who drives in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving, and can be fined and imprisoned.
Section 321.277

Alcohol and Minors

A driver under the age of twenty one (21) must not drive upon any roadway if the driver's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.02% or higher.
Section 321J.2A

Driver's Duty to Give Information and Render Aid

A driver involved in an accident resulting in injury, death, or property damage must give the driver's name, address, and the registration number of the vehicle the driver is driving and must upon request and if available exhibit the driver's driver's license to anyone involved with the accident.

Moreover the driver must render to any person injured in the accident reasonable assistance, including making of arrangements to transfer the injured person to a physician, surgeon, or hospital for medical or surgical treatment if it is apparent medical treatment is required.

If the accident causes the death of a person, all surviving drivers must remain at the scene of the accident except to seek necessary aid or to report the accident to law enforcement authorities.

Before leaving the scene of the fatal accident, each surviving driver must leave the surviving driver 's license, automobile registration receipt, or other identification data at the scene of the accident. After leaving the scene of the accident, a surviving driver must promptly report the accident to law enforcement authorities, and shall immediately return to the accident.
Sections 321.261 and 321.263

Accidents Involving Death, Personal Injury, or Substantial Bodily Injury

A driver involved in an accident resulting in injury or death of any person must immediately stop and remain at the scene of the accident until the driver has fulfilled the requirements of Section 321.263.

Section 321.263 reads in part that a driver involved in an accident resulting in injury or death must give the driver's name, address, and the registration number of the vehicle the driver is driving and must upon request and if available exhibit the driver's license to anyone involved with the accident.

Moreover the driver must render to any person injured in the accident reasonable assistance, including making of arrangements to transfer the injured person to a physician, surgeon, or hospital for medical or surgical treatment if it is apparent medical treatment is required.

If the accident causes the death of a person, all surviving drivers must remain at the scene of the accident except to seek necessary aid or to report the accident to law enforcement authorities.

Before leaving the scene of the fatal accident, each surviving driver must leave the surviving driver's license, automobile registration receipt, or other identification data at the scene of the accident. After leaving the scene of the accident, a surviving driver must promptly report the accident to law enforcement authorities, and shall immediately return to the accident.
Section 321.261

Accidents Involving Only Damage to Another Car or Property

A driver involved in an accident resulting only in damage to property or another car must immediately stop at the scene of the accident or as close to it as possible and must remain at the scene of the accident until the driver has fulfilled the requirements of Section 321.263.

Section 321.263 reads in part that a driver involved in an accident resulting in property damage must give the driver's name, address, and the registration number of the vehicle the driver is driving and must upon request and if available exhibit the driver's license to anyone involved with the accident.
Section 321.262

Accidents Involving Damage to Unattended Car or Unattended Property

A driver who collides with a parked car which is unattended must immediately stop at the scene of the accident or as close to it as possible and must attempt to locate and notify the driver or owner of the damaged car or damaged property.

Once located the driver who caused the accident must give the name and address of the driver and of the owner of the vehicle doing the striking and a statement of the circumstances that caused the accident.

If the driver or owner of the damaged car or property cannot be located, the driver who caused the accident must attach a written note to the damaged property in a conspicuous place giving the name and address of the driver and of the owner of the vehicle doing the striking and a statement of the circumstances that caused the accident
Section 321.264

Driver's Duty to Notify Police Department

A driver involved in an accident resulting in injury, death, or total damage to all property resulting in $1,500 or more must immediately by the quickest means of communication give notice to the nearest police office.
Section 321.266

Accident Reports Filed By Police Departments

Every law enforcement officer who investigates a motor vehicle accident must forward a written report of such accident to the department within twenty-four hours after completing such investigation.
Section 321.266

Accident Report Forms

The department must supply to police departments, coroners, sheriffs, and other suitable agencies or individuals, forms for accident reports that call for sufficiently detailed information about the cause, conditions then existing, and the persons and vehicles involved in a accident.
Section 321.268

Open Alcohol Container Law

A driver or passenger must not be in possession of an opened container of an alcoholic beverage while the car is on Iowa roadways. An opened alcoholic beverage container can be kept only in the trunk of a vehicle, or behind the rearmost upright seat in an area not normally occupied by passengers. It cannot be kept in the utility or glove compartment.

Passengers of a motor home or a hired vehicle can consume and possess an opened container if there is a barrier that prevents passengers from passing containers to the driver.
Sections 321.284 and 321.284A

Driving Under Influence of Alcohol or Controlled Substance

A driver must not drive after drinking an alcoholic beverage or consuming an intoxicant in an amount which renders the driver incapable of driving safely along roadways. In Iowa, a driver is guilty of the offense of drinking and driving if the driver has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.08% or higher.
Section 321J.2

Ignition Interlock Device

A driver who is guilty of driving while under the influence of an intoxicant might be ordered to have installed at his or her own expenses an ignition interlock device. The ignition interlock device will serve to restore the driver's driving privileges during the pendency of the driver's probation. If an ignition device is installed, it must be installed in every car owned or operated by the driver.

An ignition interlock is a device which measures any amount of alcohol contained in a driver's body. Before starting the car the driver must blow into a tube emanating from the ignition interlock device. If the device then detects a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) higher than is permitted by law the car will not start and the violation will be reported to the prosecutor, the probation officer, and/or the judge. At that point the driver may be subject to loss of driving privileges, immediate arrest and incarceration up to the maximum term provided by law.
Section 321J.4

Liability Laws

Iowa and Dram Shop Law

In Iowa, it is illegal to sell, dispense, or give alcohol to an intoxicated person, but it is the intoxicated person who is held liable for the personal injuries and property damage that they cause as a result of being intoxicated.

In addition, the laws states that a person, who is not required by law to have a liquor license, is also not liable for the actions of an intoxicated person to whom they have provided alcohol.
Section 123.49

Financial Responsibility Car Insurance Minimum Limits

In the State of Iowa, each motor vehicle must be covered by an insurance policy that includes liability coverage of the following amounts for all damages resulting from an accident:

  • At least $15,000 per person
  • At least $30,000 for two or more people
  • $10,000 per occurrence for property damage
Section 321A.21

Iowa Insurance Information

For information about auto insurance requirements, see the Iowa Insurance Consumer Advocate website.

Comparative Negligence (51% Rule)

In Iowa, the victim in a car accident can sue the negligent driver for compensation. The victim's liability in causing the accident, their comparative negligence, affects the amount of compensation the victim receives.

If the victim contributed less than 51% of the negligence that caused the accident, then their compensation is reduced by the amount they contributed to the accident. If the victim contributed 51% or more of the negligence that caused the accident, then the victim is barred from receiving any compensation.
Sections 668.3 and 668.4

Example of Comparative Negligence (51% Rule)

One morning, Jackson was driving north on his way to work. At an intersection, he pulled into the left turn lane. At the same time, Melanie approached the intersection from the opposite direction. Suddenly, Jackson turned left into Melanie's lane and their cars collided.

Melanie sustained serious brain injuries and damage to her car, totalling in $100,000 dollars worth of damages.

After their investigation, the police determined that Jackson had failed to yield according to traffic laws. A pedestrian witness told police he saw Melanie texting at the time Jackson's car crashed into Melanie's. As a result, the police issued Melanie a citation for using a mobile device while driving.

Melanie sued Jackson for $100,000 and claimed he was 100% at fault for the accident because he did not yield to her right-of-way. At trial, the jury found Jackson liable for failing to yield the right-of-way. However, the jury also found Melissa liable for using a mobile device while driving and partially responsible for the accident.

The verdict stated Jackson's negligence equaled 70% of the accident, and Melanie's equaled 30%. The jury awarded Melanie only $70,000 dollars.

In the event the jury had found Jackson's negligence equaled 49% of the accident, and Melanie's equaled 51%, the jury would be barred by law from awarding Melanie any compensation for the damages.
Comparative Negligence: Sections 668.3 and 668.4
Right of Way: Section 321.320
Drivers and Mobile Electronic Devices: Section 321.276

Iowa's Fault-based Car Insurance

In Iowa, the law requires car owners to purchase liability insurance. In an auto accident, the at-fault driver is liable for compensating car accident victims for personal injuries and property damages. The victims of a car accident can file a claim with their own insurance provider, file a claim with the insurance provider of the at-fault driver, or file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver.

For information about auto insurance requirements, see the Iowa Insurance Consumer Advocate website.

Statute of Limitations

Iowa has a two (2) year statute of limitations for personal injuries and a five (5) year statute of limitations for property damage claims.

This means if a driver, passenger, or passerby is injured or sustains property damage at the hands of a negligent driver, the victim must file a claim within the allotted time period following the accident, or else they are barred from seeking compensation.
Section 614.1

Small Claims Courts

In Iowa, victims of car accidents can choose to sue the negligent driver in small claims court. The jurisdiction of a small claims court regarding personal injury and property damage is limited to a maximum of $5,000, exclusive of filing fees and court costs.

To learn more about how to submit a claim in small claims court, visit the Iowa Judicial Branch website.

Iowa Government Tort Claims - Sovereign Immunity

In Iowa, it is possible to submit a claim against a governmental agency or its employees for personal injury or property damage as a result of negligence on the part of the governmental agency or its employees. The claim must refer to an lawful action on the part of the governmental agency or employee performed in the scope of their duties.

If the injury or property damage occurred as a result of an unlawful action, then the claimant can sue only the person(s) who caused injury or property damage individually. The governmental agency would not be liable.
Section 669

Example

If Melissa, an engineer with the Des Moines Planning Department, ran a red light on her way to a worksite and caused an accident, then the City of Des Moines would be liable for the property damage and personal injuries caused her.

If Melissa stopped for a few drinks and became intoxicated before heading to a worksite and causing an accident, then the City of Des Moines can claim sovereign immunity. Melissa performed an unlawful act and was not acting in the scope of her duties when she became intoxicated on her way to the worksite.

To seek compensation for damages, injured parties would have to sue Melissa personally. The determination of whether or not Melissa was acting within the scope of her duties would have to be decided during a trial.

Section 669
NCSL

Sources

State Government of Iowa

Iowa Department of Transportation

Iowa General Assembly

Iowa Department of Public Safety

Governors Highway Safety Association

Iowa Bar Association

National Conference on State Legislature

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