There but for the grace of God …

We’ve all heard those words uttered during our lifetime, spoken by a friend or relative who’d survived or avoided one of life’s many crises.

I found myself thinking those words after encountering a serious highway accident last week.

My wife and I find ourselves on Iowa’s highways several times each week. Having traversed Iowa for several years, I’ve come to know many of the rural “shortcuts” from our home in Waukee to points all across this great state. Often, we’ll find ourselves on numbered county roads during the dark of night as we return home.

And, so it was last week.

We’d been to Alta, just a few miles northwest of Storm Lake on Wednesday for the regular weekly automobile races at the Buena Vista County Raceway, a 3/8-mile oval ribbon of black dirt carved next to Iowa Highway 7. When we left Alta for home, the sun was setting and after two hours’ of driving it was pitch black when we arrived back in Dallas County. An often-used “short cut” takes us off the four-lane Highway 141 near Woodward and onto R22, which carries us south to Iowa Highway 44 just east of Dallas Center.

As we motored south toward our Waukee home, flashing red lights were visible far in the distance ahead. Nonetheless, I drove on. As I neared those lights, however, I saw that a Dallas County Sheriff’s patrol car was sitting cross-wise on the highway, blocking passing traffic. With our path blocked, and at the direction of the deputy at the scene, I was forced to turn around and back-track several miles in order to reach our destination.

I wondered about the reason for the blockage and my wife, Judy, and I discussed the possibilities, somewhat annoyed at the inconvenience we’d encountered along our route home.

The next morning news told us why we’d encountered the sudden, unexpected detour.

Three bicyclists had been struck by a vehicle traveling the same county blacktop, in the same direction we’d been driving, only a short time before we arrived at the scene.

But, the incident also left my mind filled with questions.

R22 is a relatively narrow strip of blacktop with very narrow shoulders on each side. It creates a perfect situation for tragedy when cars come upon bicyclists, especially at night. By the time a motorist catches sight of bicyclists ahead, it gives the driver only a second or two to make an adjustment — hitting the brakes and/or taking evasive action.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that bicyclists are just as entitled to ride on most Iowa roads as are the thousands of motorists who travel daily. But, I’ll also admonish those bicyclists to use common sense, especially when they’re riding on a road built for automobile traffic and under the shroud of darkness.

I’ve come upon groups of bicyclists who show complete disdain for the motoring public. Often, rather than riding one after another on the far righthand side of a roadway, they’ll ride side-by-side over the entire traveled portion. That makes it very difficult for automobiles to negotiate around those cyclists in a safe manner.

I’m not blaming the bicyclists in the incident last week. But, I’m also not blaming the driver of the van who struck them. No charges, at least at this time, have been filed – that’s not to say, however, that charges won’t come in the future.

Put yourself in that same situation. In my mind, I have over and over in the week since the unfortunate accident.

And, one thing keeps coming back to me. There are hundreds of miles of bike trails that crisscross Dallas County and many of those miles were within distance of R22. Why weren’t those bicyclists on one of those trails, far safer for riding and completely devoid of automobile traffic?

No matter who’s at fault, it was an unfortunate accident. I feel for those who were struck by the automobile, but I also feel for the driver. I’m sure she feels absolutely terrible about the incident.

And, I’ve though over and over and over this week … “There by for the grace of God …”

Bill Haglund is a retired writer for the Boone News-Republican and Dallas County News and can be reached at