DOT Proposes Rules for Traffic Enforcement Cameras

By Rod Boshart, Reporter

Traffic flows along the northbound lanes of Interstate 380 as workers install speed cameras on a road sign north of the H Avenue NE interchange on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2010, in northeast Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/SourceMedia Group News)

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By Larry Burkum

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Local jurisdictions would have to document safety justifications before being allowed to install fixed or mobile traffic enforcement cameras on state primary highways to ticket motorists for speeding or red-light violations under rules proposed by the Iowa Department of Transportation.

DOT officials have created an application process that requires a six-part justification for the implementation, placement and use of automated traffic enforcement systems. The standards include provisions relating to motorist safety, signage and effectiveness.

“We believe they will promote their safe and consistent use and application. That’s really the overriding intent,” DOT Director Paul Trombino said in an interview. “The rules create a process to help determine if speed or red-light systems are the appropriate safety counter measure.”

Fixed and mobile traffic enforcement devices currently are being used to monitor vehicle speeds and red-light compliance on portions of state highways, city streets and county roads in Cedar Rapids, Davenport, Fort Dodge, Muscatine, Sioux City and several jurisdictions within Polk County. The state does not own, operate or receive compensation for any automated traffic enforcement system in Iowa.

The new state rules propose a process to help determine if speed or red-light systems are the appropriate safety counter measure. The new rules will be considered by a legislative panel next week and then go out for public comment before proceeding to implementation by next February if they are approved.

“The rules will ensure placement does not cause unnecessary distractions or obstructions for motorists that could cause unsafe situations,” Trombino said. “Our belief is that automatic traffic enforcement systems should be used as a last resort after other safety measures have been exhausted.”

Under the 10-page plan, any fixed or mobile enforcement system that receives DOT approval would be evaluated annually to determine its effectiveness on public safety and driver compliance with traffic laws.

Continued use would be contingent on the effectiveness of the system, appropriate administration of it by the local jurisdiction, changes in traffic patterns, infrastructure improvements, continued compliance with state rules, and implementation of other safety counter measures. If appropriate, the department would have the discretion to require the removal or modification of a system in a particular location.

“I think the rules bring equity and fairness, ultimately, and a neutral perspective to the process,” said Trombino, who noted his agency has worked with local jurisdictions over the past year to establish a consistent statewide policy governing the use of automated traffic enforcement on roadways under DOT authority.

“What it recognizes is there needs to be a more-organized process so the citizens know how the decision gets made and, when the decision gets made, it’s really for safety. Right now I think it’s a cloud if not a disguise at times, unfortunately,” he added.

“If there’s a safety issue on the system, let’s evaluate it and then let’s try to figure out what’s the right safety counter measure. Those safety counter measures should have nothing to do with revenue,” the DOT director said. “I think right now it’s very hard to see. At times, from my perspective, I think it is a disguise from a safety perspective and it’s really about revenue. I think even some of the communities have acknowledged it in some cases.”

Under the DOT guidelines, automated traffic enforcement systems only will be considered in school zones or areas with a documented high-crash or high-risk location in an area or intersection with a significant history of crashes attributed to red-light running or speeding. All automated enforcement systems located in a vehicle must be owned and operated by a law enforcement agency.

The rules do not attempt to establish a uniform fine schedule, which is a local ordinance issue, Trombino noted.

Trombino said existing systems would be subject to the evaluation process.

“The rules create a process to help determine if speed or red-light systems are the appropriate safety counter measure. That also means that we’re going to evaluate the existing ones,” he said.

“I would advocate that we are the neutral party here and we want to do a true safety analysis. If, as we look at those and we don’t feel that we’re getting results, why would we leave it, is my question,” he added. “If I put out a safety counter measure and it doesn’t look like it’s working, why would I leave it if it’s not improving?”

The DOT director said the new rules were developed with input from local jurisdictions that currently operate traffic cameras. Asked if he anticipated any resistance to his department’s proposal, Trombino said: “I would say yes.”

“We’ll see if communities oppose it or have some concerns with it,” he added. “Based on past practice over the last year, my tendency is to say yes, unfortunately.”

Any interested person may submit written comments or suggestions on the proposed rules before 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 31 by addressing them to Tracy George, Iowa Department of Transportation, Office of Policy and Legislative Services, 800 Lincoln Way, Ames, IA 50010 or sending them by email to tracy.george@dot.iowa.gov. Also, anyone wishing to get more information or make oral comments to the rules is invited to attend a public hearing at 1 p.m. on Oct. 30 at the Hampton Inn and Suites, 3210 SE Convenience Blvd., in Ankeny.

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