By The Gazette Editorial Board
It’s up to local police to enforce traffic laws on city streets, including state highways and freeways that run through their jurisdiction. Local government provides much of the money and manpower to make sure that happens.
So we’re puzzled why the Iowa Department of Transportation now is preparing to give itself veto power over the ability of local police to use traffic enforcement cameras on those roads.
We’ve said in the past that it seems reasonable for the state to set standards for how cameras may be installed on state highways and interstates, including minimum requirements for placement, signage etc. The rules being proposed by the DOT do include some of those reasonable standards.
But we think the department goes too far in requiring cities to seek state permission to use the cameras. The list of requirements local governments would have to meet to justify use of the cameras seem overly broad and vague, designed more to discourage than assist.
DOT officials say they want locals to prove that the cameras will improve safety, and that they’re only being used as a last resort after other tools have been tried — as if local officials aren’t already considering such factors. They charge that the cameras are primarily used to raise revenue, discounting arguments and statistics from Cedar Rapids and other Iowa cities that cameras have had a positive effect on roadway safety. If the department doesn’t believe those statistics now, why would they believe them under the new rules?
The rules add up to yet another instance of state officials figuring that they know better than local leaders.
Cedar Rapids officials weighed the pluses and minuses of traffic cameras. The public weighed in as well. In the end, the city decided to install red light and speed cameras. So far, it appears that accidents have been reduced in problem areas, such as the s-curve on I-380. The cameras certainly are not universally loved, but the local debate has calmed considerably. State leaders’ apparent contention that local officials have somehow mishandled this issue, or failed to thoughtfully consider its implications, doesn’t reflect reality.
Camera tickets do result in revenue. In Cedar Rapids, the city is using the money to cover the rising cost of police and fire pensions. And with any luck, that revenue will decline over time as driver behavior changes.
We understand the state’s authority over its highways. But we think the DOT should wield its power as a partner, not a micromanager. We urge the department, and state lawmakers, to put apply the brakes.
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