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Iowa Officals Warn Of Speed Camera Dangers
State government officials say Iowa Department of Transportation must regulate speed cameras as a potential hazard to public safety.

Iowa Supreme Court hearing 4/10
The Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT) and the state attorney general's office on Tuesday told Iowa Supreme Court that speed cameras are potential highway hazards. The agency appeared before the high court justices to defend its role in crafting rules governing the placement of automated ticketing machines on highways. Municipalities are challenging the agency's authority to do so, but IDOT says its legal duty to handle obstructions on highways applies to photo radar devices.

"What we're dealing with is not a physical obstruction [on the highway]," assistant attorney general Richard E. Mull said on Tuesday. "If traffic cameras are creating a pattern of causing motorists to brake suddenly, and causing a pattern of accidents... traffic cameras could come under Section 318 regarding an obstruction."

The high court must determine whether, in the absence of a clear legislative grant of authority, IDOT can regulate the cities' use of photo ticketing devices on highways. The agency insists its general grant of authority over the highway safety covers regulation of the devices and that it would have been far too cumbersome for the legislature to create a line item list of everything IDOT can do to protect safety. Mull cited the example of slamming the brakes near the cameras as a way the devices have created a hazard in Sioux City on Interstate 29.

"The city had placed a mobile traffic camera on the shoulder of the interstate," Mull explained. "And that was struck by a motor vehicle. That would be an instance of a physical obstruction. That certainly was the motivation for several of the minimum safety requirements the DOT is imposing through these administrative rules."

Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and West Des Moines argued that citing this general authority over safety is not good enough. Ten years ago, it was good enough for the cities to cite a general authority of their own when they first installed cameras without explicit permission from the legislature, and the state Supreme Court agreed (view ruling).

Justice Brent R. Appel wondered whether IDOT was more concerned with public opinion than public safety, noting the massive citizen opposition to the use of photo ticketing.

"We received a large volume of public commentary," Mull said. "The DOT was required to -- and they did -- take all comments into account."

The agency's representatives argued that municipalities are unable to regulate themselves because of the massive financial incentive created by the cameras. As IDOT does not receive any photo ticketing revenue, it can monitor the use of the devices objectively.

"I don't think the DOT can ever lose control of its authority to make sure highways are kept in a reasonably safe condition," Mull said. "Otherwise DOT isn't doing their job."

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