The Iowa Department of Transportation passed judgment on traffic cameras deployed by six Iowa communities and the verdict is clear: According to the DOT analysis, traffic cameras work.
The DOT report issued last Tuesday showed effective use of more than two-thirds of the state's traffic cameras. The agency ordered nine cameras removed and suggested further documentation to support continuing a 10th.
Davenport introduced Iowa to automated traffic enforcement back in 2004. Two years ago, state legislators took a measure of control away from local governments and ordered the DOT to determine the effectiveness of cameras on state highways.
This initial DOT study seems to focus on one factor, simply counting reported crashes before and after camera installation. There's no suggestion researchers considered other recognized factors that could influence crash numbers: weather, type of vehicle, time of day, traffic conditions.
Still, on that narrow DOT crash count assessment, the vast majority of Iowa traffic camera sites reported fewer accidents after cameras appeared. Crash counts are down. Speeds are down. And full-time, trained officers who used to point radar guns from their squads for hours, now are deployed more effectively to other crime-fighting duties.
Headlines last week focused on the handful of cameras the DOT ordered cities to remove. Davenport will lose one of four intersection cameras. The DOT allowed it to keep both fixed speed cameras. Muscatine loses one intersection cameras.
The biggest DOT concerns seemed to be interstate speed cameras. The DOT feedback instructed Cedar Rapids to better deploy two I-380 speed cameras and remove two others. Sioux City was ordered to remove both of its portable speed cameras from a stretch of Interstate 29.
We worried that legislators' political fears might prevail over autonomous Iowa cities' traffic concerns. We're pleased to see the Iowa DOT research affirm camera enforcement success in the vast majority of situations.
There will always be concerns that any enforcement — automated or otherwise — can be driven by revenue. This first study confirms verifiable safety improvements across Iowa from the camera enforcement launched more than a decade ago in Davenport.