Cities should accept DOT traffic camera rules

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Iowa lawmakers listened to law enforcement pleas and smartly abandoned legislation seeking to ban automated traffic enforcement cameras. Now, we think it’s also time for Cedar Rapids and other cities to abandon a legal challenge seeking to overturn reasonable traffic camera regulations crafted by the Iowa Department of Transportation.

On Thursday, a Polk County judge handed down a sweeping defeat for those cities, ruling the DOT is well within its statutory authority to regulate traffic cameras, and that its rules were a logical outgrowth of public comment it received during its rule-making process. District Judge Scott Rosenberg rejected all of the city’s legal arguments.

Under the DOT’s rules, approved in 2014, Cedar Rapids was ordered to remove two speed cameras on I-380 that catch speeders as they leave the S-curve downtown. It also ordered the repositioning of two cameras aimed at inbound S-curve drivers to be no less than 1,000 feet from the point where the speed limit drops to 55 mph. The DOT argues inbound drivers need more time to adjust their speed and the agency sees little safety benefit to ticketing drivers once they leave the curve.

Much is at stake for Cedar Rapids, which has far and away the state’s largest camera system with 28 total cameras collecting $4.4 million during Fiscal Year 2016.

We’ve generally supported the city’s contention that its cameras have made roads safer. But the DOT’s jurisdiction seems clear and its regulatory orders are reasonable. We opposed Cedar Rapids’ entry into the legal fight.

Now, we think pursuing the lawsuit may actually jeopardize the future of traffic cameras. Continued defiance of reasonable state rules only feeds the insistence of camera critics that cities are more concerned about revenue than safety. Those critics’ effort to ban the cameras could be revived in 2018.

If cities prevail on appeal, its likely the Legislature will simply step in to give the DOT regulatory authority. That could result in new regulations more stringent than current rules.

Backing away from the lawsuit would send a clear signal to the Statehouse that cities are willing to cooperate with state officials on traffic camera usage. We think it’s a signal that would defuse further talk of a camera ban.

If Cedar Rapids’ primary objective is to sustain a camera system that enhances safety, pumping the brakes on its legal challenge is the best course of action.

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