House should follow Senate on speed cameras and texting bills

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State senators made the right calls this week on a pair of traffic safety bills.

A bipartisan majority of senators turned back an effort to ban the use of automated traffic enforcement cameras, opting instead to allow cities such as Cedar Rapids to use camera systems on high-risk roads so long as they adhere to state regulations. The Senate also voted overwhelmingly to allow law officers to pull over motorists they suspect of texting while driving.

Senators revised Senate File 220, which would have banned cameras, after hearing from law enforcement leaders from Cedar Rapids and elsewhere who argued the placement of speed and red light cameras has made local highways and streets safer. The bill would allow cameras on risky roads, while requiring advanced signage, weekly calibration of camera equipment, officer review of citations and periodic justification reports. Fines could not exceed existing speeding fines.

Money from camera citations, under the bill, would be directed to infrastructure and public safety uses.

It’s a good compromise, permitting the use of cameras that have helped slow traffic on I-380’s dicey S-curve while also clarifying the state Department of Transportation’s jurisdiction over the systems. Cedar Rapids and other Iowa cities have gone to court questioning the DOT’s authority.

State oversight will provide a check on camera systems, which addresses the concerns of ban advocates who argue cities installed systems hoping to boost revenue, not safety.

The texting bill, Senate File 234, is not a perfect bill. Although it allows a traffic stop for writing, sending or reading electronic messages, it still permits drivers to make use their hand-held phone to calls and check GPS directions. It’s a necessary compromise, according to backers.

But it’s better than Iowa’s current, ineffective law, which lists texting while driving as a secondary offense for adults that can only be enforced if a motorists commits another violation. Few tickets have been issued, even as texting has become a growing problem. Iowa law already bans texting for young drivers as a primary offense.

We agree with safety advocates who see the bill as a good step forward after traffic deaths, which hit a five-year low in 2013, spiked last year.

The Senate’s actions also provide fresh evidence that lawmakers can tackle tough, contentious issues when they work in a bipartisan fashion and listen to Iowans on the front lines of enforcing our laws. The House should follow the Senate’s lead and pass the bills.

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