Despite hundreds complaints from Iowans about so-called “red light cameras,” a panel of senators has killed a bill that would have banned the devices.
Senator Brad Zaun, a Republican from Urbandale, sponsored the legislation after receiving a citation in the mail for a speeding violation in Cedar Rapids. Zaun says his son was caught on camera driving a car registered in the senator’s name.
“Obviously I don’t condone that. I had a talk with my son. I said, ‘Number one: you’re going to pay for this ticket and number two, you’ve got to watch your speed,'” the elder Zaun says.
Senator Zaun says he’s received lots of calls and emails from Iowans complaining about the new traffic enforcement tool. “Just last night I talked to someone that had their car taken to a repair shop and the mechanic took it out for a test drive and got a violation and the next thing you know the owner of that car gets a ticket in the mail,” Zaun says.
Five Iowa communities — Davenport, Cedar Rapids, Clive, Council Bluffs and Sioux City — currently use cameras to monitor intersections or interstate traffic. Cops in those cities say the lights were installed to improve public safety. Cedar Rapids Police Lieutenant Jeff Hembera says the cameras have changed driver behavior.
“At the monitored intersections where we had put these systems up that were our highest accident intersections, they’ve dropped by 40 percent from ’09 to ’10 when we instituted those,” Hembera says.
The number of accidents along Interstate-380 as it runs through Cedar Rapids has declined by 54 percent since the cameras were installed.
But Senator Zaun speculates it’s more about generating revenue for the city. Cedar Rapids has collected nearly $3.5 million in fines in the first year alone. And Ben Stone, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, says the proliferation of traffic cameras and the pricey tickets people get in the mail aren’t popular with voters.
“The public has consistently rejected these systems,” Stone says. “There’s been 15 different votes on referendum around the country and every single time the voters reject this fiscal policy.”
But Senator Jeff Danielson, a Democrat from Cedar Falls, says for all their faults, the cameras appear to be working. “We live in modern times,” Danielson says. “We should take advantage of modern technology if we can protect the public that way.”
While the bill to completely ban red-light cameras has been scuttled in the senate, there’ll be an effort in the Iowa House to limit how much a city in Iowa can charge for tickets issued after a camera captures a vehicle committing a traffic offense. The legislation would also require a uniform process for appealing a ticket.