Today Iowa lawmakers granted DOT officers permission to keep issuing tickets to non-commercial drivers for one year.
The move to temporarily allow DOT officers to ticket motorists as well as commercial vehicle drivers is the latest in a legal battle during which numerous judges have ruled that they do not have the authority to issue many traffic citations like speeding tickets to non-commercial vehicle drivers. DOT has maintained that their officers are properly trained to issue the traffic citations and they have continued to exercise that power in spite of the legal decisions to the contrary.
Iowa DOT’s fight for power began after 16-year-old Peyton Atzen was issued a speeding ticket by a Motor Vehicle Enforcement Officer with the Iowa Department of Transportation. He was doing 84 m.p.h. in a 55 m.p.h. zone.
Atzen’s lawyer argued that DOT officers have the authority to stop vehicles for weight or registration issues but not for a moving violation like speeding.
Polk County District Court Associate Judge Heather Lauber sided with Atzen, issuing a twelve page ruling that states that the DOT had no right to issue a moving violations ticket.
Iowa DOT said that they would keep writing tickets in spite of the ruling: “We have no immediate plans to discontinue non-commercial enforcement. I do know any pending tickets — we believe we have the authority to issue those tickets, and those tickets are valid..”
Aztec’s case became a class action suit that calls into question 25,000 speeding tickets issued by DOT officers between 2011 and 2016 — tickets that generated $3.7 million worth of revenue for the state. Approximately half of the speeding tickets written by DOT officers went to motorists, not commercial vehicle drivers.
DOT insists that they are not fighting so hard for the right to write tickets for monetary gain as the revenue from citations goes into a general fund and not directly to DOT. They maintain that public safety is their main motivation for wanting to issue traffic citations to motorists.
During the temporary one year grace period, Iowa lawmakers vow to fully review the separation of powers between various state agencies.