Iowa DOT Discusses Proposed Traffic Camera Rules Change

By Mike Wiser, 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 Aaron Hepker

ANKENY, Iowa — Top law enforcement officials from some of the state’s largest cities hammered a proposal that would make it more difficult for them to install and use traffic cameras.

Police chiefs and other top brass from the Des Moines, Davenport, Cedar Rapids and Sioux City police departments joined officers from smaller jurisdictions and a few interest groups in criticizing the proposed Iowa Department of Transportation rules during a public hearing held in an Ankeny hotel conference room Wednesday.

DOT officials created an application 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, signs and effectiveness.

A key part of the proposed rules requires an annual report from the municipality to IDOT about the effectiveness of the automated traffic systems already in place. IDOT then could determine whether the camera still is longer needed or whether other measures need to be adopted by the municipality.

“These recommended guidelines amount to nothing more than a ban,” Sioux City Police Chief Doug Young told the two IDOT officials who ran the public hearing. “Safety and its enforcement should be up to the cities.”

The public hearing is part of the process IDOT is required to take in order to create new rules for the placement and use of cameras. The rules still would have to go through a committee of lawmakers, and the earliest the proposed rules could take effect would be in February.
Tom Stanberry, an attorney representing the Iowa Insurance Institute, said IDOT “set up standards which are impossible, impractical, or cost-prohibitive to meet.”

Stanberry’s and Young’s remarks were similar to comments from the majority of the dozen or so speakers who addressed the panel. Several, including Davenport Police Chief Frank Donchez, pointed to statistics from their departments showing a reduction in accidents and auto fatalities since the cameras were installed. There were, however, a few people who spoke in favor of the rules.

Ben Stone, executive director of the Iowa branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the organization supports the proposed rules because they require more due process than the current system. He suggested IDOT add an additional rule to increase yellow-light times for intersections with red-light cameras.

David Beer, who owns a Cedar Rapids automobile rental business, said he was tired of getting dinged for tickets from people who rented a vehicle from his shop.

“I’m one of the few people not being paid to be here,” Beer said. “When the police say if you don’t speed, you won’t get a ticket, well, that’s not true.”

IDOT Director Paul Trombino sat in the audience for most of the hearing. During a break, he said he was “still digesting” what he had heard. He said the law enforcement positions on the camera have been expressed before, but he wanted to reserve judgment until the process was completed.

“I think we’ll wait and get all the public input. Part of it is to see what was written, and we’re still collecting written comment,” he said. “One of the things I didn’t hear a lot of up there was (in the testimony), I heard a lot about enforcement but I didn’t hear about safety … Enforcement is a component of safety, it’s not the component of safety.”

The hearing was scheduled to run from 1 to 4 p.m., but the room cleared out of new commenters shortly after 2 p.m., and IDOT officials packed up and left by 3:15 p.m.

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