Starting Wednesday, new rules from the Iowa Department of Transportation will take effect, requiring cities and counties to justify the use of many of the red light and speed cameras in the state.
Automated traffic enforcement systems have been going up in growing numbers across the state of Iowa, and the Iowa Department of Transportation says its new rules are meant to ensure they only are used where they are actually needed to improve traffic safety.
"Certainly, cameras would be one of those counter measures - or could be, depending upon the situation, but it's not the only one," explained Steve Gent, Director of the IDOT office of Traffic and Safety.
Right now, all it takes is a simple majority vote by a city council to be able to put one up.
"There's really no check and balance," Gent said.
As of Wednesday, that is changing, because the new Iowa DOT rules take effect for automated traffic enforcement devices on Iowa's primary highway system, which includes interstates, U.S. Routes, and state routes. City or county owned and maintained roads are not covered by the new rules.
Under the rules for the primary highway system roads, it will be up to the DOT to give the green light for new speed and red light cameras to go in after reviewing extensive justification reports.
And, for existing cameras, the cities and counties that put them up will be required to submit annual reports to the DOT proving that they've actually worked in improving safety.
"The question is are those systems still effective? Are they still needed?" Gent explained.
Muscatine's mayor, DeWayne Hopkins, tells us he is confident the cameras in his city will pass that review.
He says accident rates at each location have been reduced by an average of 30 percent or more since the cameras went in.
And, he says, the city puts the revenue it collects from violations to good use. Muscatine is expecting to collect about $600,000 in revenue from the traffic cams this year, which pays for uniformed officers in the middle and high schools, among other things.
Only two of the five cameras in Muscatine will be covered by the new DOT review rules. Those are the ones on primary highways, at US Highway 61 and University Drive and at US Highway 61 and Mulberry Avenue.
In Davenport, all but three of the cameras are on primary highways. The cameras at Locust Street and Lincoln Avenue, 1800 W. 3rd Street, and 3300 N. Division Street are on city roads and therefore completely under city control. All of the other cameras, on Kimberly Road (U.S. 6), Brady Street (U.S. 61), Harrison Street (U.S. 61), and River Drive (U.S. 67), are covered by the new DOT rules and authority.
Mayor Bill Gluba has been a vocal critic of the rule changes in the past:
"It's about traffic safety. Our police officers can tell you that from the get go. I would hate to see the state who's supposed to be dedicated to traffic safety, and for the most part they are, doing anything to cause more accidents," Mayor Gluba told us in an interview on October 2, 2013.
The Iowa Department of Transportation says Mayor Gluba's concerns are not warranted:
"It's something that we just think is a really good thing for Iowans that we're making sure that these systems are about safety, and if there's anything else we should be doing, we're going to look at it together," Gent said.
Cities and counties will have to submit their first justification reports to the DOT for review by May 1, 2014.
There is also legislation covering the use of traffic enforcement cameras making its way through the Iowa legislature now.