Iowans worried that cities and counties are exploiting traffic cameras solely for profit should be wary about state legislators rushing to the rescue.
The Iowa Legislature's Administrative Rules Review Committee met Tuesday to consider a Department of Transportation policy change that would give the DOT oversight of local traffic cameras on state roads. The committee is a bipartisan group of four representatives and four senators, including Davenport's Republican Sen. Roby Smith.
If the committee votes "yes," Iowa's Department of Transportation will have to sign off on any camera used to issue tickets on interstates, federal or state highways. That means the DOT will have to develop rules and regulations.
We're all for responsible oversight of automated enforcement. Davenport pioneered the practice in Iowa, prompting the evolution of state law that didn't account for the technology. When Davenport launched automated enforcement, traffic tickets never showed up on permanent driving records. Legislators responded with proper reforms so that traffic scofflaws couldn't keep paying off camera tickets without losing their licenses.
Since then, we've seen measurable improvements in traffic safety around Davenport's cameras. Davenport police affirm fewer accidents at intersections with red light cameras. And we've seen how the speed camera at 1200 block of westbound River Drive is keeping traffic at the posted 40 mph limit.
One fixed camera can do the work of many patrol officers at a fraction of the cost. DOT regulation should be aimed at promoting the responsible use of these cameras. Instead, the new rules seem to originate with legislators' fears of abuse, not their interest in using technology to improve safety and reduce costs.
Recall, this is the same legislative body that exempted casinos from smoking bans solely to protect gaming tax revenue. It's the same group that passively allowed Iowa Lottery slot machines in hundreds of convenience stores across the state until public outrage forced action. It's the same group that reformed property taxes, in part, by gouging local governments.
Legislators have succumbed to the same revenue temptations these DOT rules aim to stop.
By all means, authorize the DOT to study the effectiveness of enforcement. Certainly lawmakers should develop cogent guidelines for determining best practices. But don't implement new rules without a full legislative discussion, not just the rules committee. And by all means, keep lawmakers' hands off the revenue generated by this effective enforcement pioneered by Davenport and other Iowa city police departments.
Oct. 11, 2013