The director of the Iowa DOT says there’s “mixed” research data about whether automated traffic enforcement cameras improve safety or actually cause more wrecks. Paul Trombino’s agency has proposed rules which would require cities and counties to show safety would be improved on stretches of state highways and interstates where traffic cameras are located.

“The rules are what I would call a consistent process that’s been around. Any traffic engineering safety analysis — we do it. It’s a common practice. You do it for traffic signals, access control, stop signs. All the communities are well aware of it,” Trombino says. “What we’re advocating this decision — when it comes to traffic enforcement — they’re identifying a safety issue on the system. We should use a standard traffic engineering safety analysis to identify what the issue is and then figure out what the counter measures are.”

Law enforcement officials in cities like Clive, Cedar Rapids, Davenport and Sioux City say the strategic use of traffic cameras improves safety. Trombino says there also is data suggesting traffic cameras cause more accidents.

“I think the information, at best, is mixed,” Trombino says. “I think, in some instances, putting out what would be considered a safety counter measure and not really doing the correct analysis can have negative effects. That’s true and in some cases you see that on the system which is why we’re advocating there should be good process, good traffic safety engineering analysis done first so you can identify the right counter measure.”

Unless a legislative committee that reviews state agency rules enforces a delay, the DOT rules on traffic enforcement cameras along state highways and interstates are scheduled to go into effect early next year. Efforts to completely ban traffic cameras or to limit the fines that can be levied have failed at the statehouse for the past few years, but Representative Josh Byrnes, a Republican from Osage who is chairman of the House Transportation Committee, says there’s a possibility legislators may act in 2014.

“There’s got to be some consistency with this and right now it’s kind of all over the board and, you know, you could get a traffic fine in this community and you go to this (other) community and it doubles,” Byrnes says. “I think we’ve got to have consistency with how this technology is utilized.”

Byrnes has also asked cities with traffic cameras to provide information about how much is being paid to the private companies that run the cameras.

Byrnes and Trombino made their comments during a recent appearance on Iowa Public Television.