Law enforcement officials from around the state gathered at the capitol today to tout what they see as the benefits of traffic cameras that issue tickets to speeders and red light runners, but there’s gathering momentum for a bill that would make those cameras illegal.
Republican Senator Brad Zaun of Urbandale has been trying to ban these cameras for years. Now that Republicans are in full control of the legislature, Zaun sees an opening.
“What I have witnessed is a proliferation of these traffic cameras since they first came into Iowa,” Zaun said. “I have many, many issues and this is the top one: I believe the way our court system is set up, you have the opportunity to face your accuser.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa agrees that “due process” rights are violated when tickets are issued by the private companies that monitor the cameras. Senator Rich Taylor, a Democrat from Mount Pleasant, is no fan of traffic cameras either. He got a ticket from a speed camera while driving north on Interstate-380 through Cedar Rapids — and another ticket as he drove back south on the return trip.
“It really penalizes people from out of the area because the people that are from the area slow down. They know it’s there,” Taylor said. “But as soon as they get out of that area, they’ve going past you like a bat out of hell and I think that kind of defeats the purpose.”
Senator Jake Chapman, a Republican from Adel, said one of the ambulances his company owns and tracks by computer was improperly ticketed in Creston. “How many other citizens have been hit with tickets inaccurately? Have they been refunded,” Chapman said. “We have the technology to fight these situations, but the average Iowan does not.”
A senate hearing on the issue, though, attracted a parade of people who contend the cameras are a safety tool. Joe Lohmuller is a surgeon who works at the only trauma center in Davenport.
“When we instituted both the speed cameras and the red light cameras within Davenport, we were able to demonstrate within a year a 12 percent drop in the number of seriously injured people who arrived from that area,” he said.
Kevin Schneider is with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, an agency that’s put cameras in SUVs that are parked around the county.
“We’ve seen a definite change in behavior with the two traffic cameras that we have — the mobile speed cams,” he said. “We’ve also seen a reduction in fatalities that we’re having on the secondary roads.”
Greg Smith of the Cedar Rapids Fire Department says there’s been just one death on Interstate 380 through downtown Cedar Rapids since the traffic cameras were posted there.
“Personally my biggest reason for opposing this bill is because if you remove those cameras, our crews will spend more time on car accidents which will expose our crews to the safety hazards up on that roadway,” Smith told senators.
Council Bluffs Police Chief Tim Carmody called traffic enforcement cameras a “force multiplier.”
“What would happen if we place an officer there is no one’s going to run the camera because they’ll see the officer and the cruiser, but as soon as the officer leaves, that will start to occur again,” Carmody said. “It also allows us to go out and do pro-active patrols, answer calls for service or investigate other cases because I don’t have to have an officer at that location.”
Traffic cameras have been an issue at the statehouse for several years. After several failed efforts to ban the devices, Governor Branstad ordered the DOT to review the placement of traffic cameras. In 2015, the DOT ordered the cities of Cedar Rapids, Sioux City, Muscatine and Des Moines to take down or move cameras, but a lawsuit was filed to challenge that order.