Davenport's gift to Iowa — automated traffic enforcement — dodged a legislative attack and now faces needed scrutiny by the Iowa Department of Transportation.
DOT will begin studying the effectiveness of the cameras that catch traffic scofflaws speeding and running red lights.
This regulatory approach is vastly better than legislation that might have put the DOT in the driver's seat of this effective traffic enforcement innovated by local cities, beginning in Iowa with Davenport.
Davenport's 2004 venture into camera enforcement led to a court battle to iron out inequities that led many to suspect these cameras were cash machines, not public safety tools.
Since then, studies are proving that cameras can curtail speeding and other violations as effectively and less expensively than police officers.
But the "cash machine" suspicions remain, with good reason.
Enforcement cameras in Davenport are generating $1 million in annual fines. Cedar Rapids cameras are bringing in about $4 million a year.
If those numbers seem astronomical, consider a larger perspective.
A single speed camera in Washington D.C. generated $11.6 million in fines for 116,734 offenders in 2011 and 2012.
The disparity of Cedar Rapids vs. Davenport, and the lottery-sized jackpot in D.C. suggest independent regulation can keep these cameras focused on safety, not money.
Smart DOT regulation will help cities compile and analyze data to determine best tactics to reduce traffic violations that lead to accidents.
Without that comparative safety data, it becomes too easy for local government leaders to be dazzled by seven-figure dollar signs.
The DOT also should consider protections against the very real threat of invasion of privacy by networks of cameras that could be corrupted to track any moving vehicle, not just lawbreakers.
We're convinced this automated enforcement enhances safety in our community and are proud of Davenport's role introducing it. Cautious DOT oversight seems a sensible compromise to improve technology that is reducing accidents and saving lives.
April 5, 2013.