Traffic cameras increase safety

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By Bob Elliott


We’re now more than a decade into the 21st century, and well aware of escalating technological advances.

So why are some people so opposed to involving technology in efforts to increase safety on our streets? To be fair, those anti-technology folks appear to have no problem with public safety efforts involving cell phones, radar, computers, traffic lights, and more.

But for some reason, they scream bloody murder when cities consider using automated cameras to increase safety at street intersections, particularly the most dangerous ones.

The immediate question: Why all the fuss?

And now one of Governor-for-Life Terry Branstad’s state departments has entered the controversy. As a result, according to The Gazette’s Dec. 9 issue, one of the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Primary Highway System Guidelines focusing on automated camera use states: “Seldom should an automated enforcement system be used as a long-term solution for speeding or red light running.”

Again, why? Of rather, why not?

How many times driving or as a passenger in a car stopping for a red light, have you witnessed a car or truck zipping right on through the red light. How many of those times did you or someone else say, “Oh, how I wish a cop was here to nail that guy.”

An automated red light camera would have nailed that driver and any other who ran a red light. What’s wrong with that?

Nobody appears to be upset if a police officer witnesses such a red light infraction and nails the driver. So what’s the difference whether a police officer’s eye or a camera’s eye catches a law breaker. And besides, a camera is on the job 24-7, and is never distracted from keeping a constant eye on the traffic.

And yes, in such instances the camera tickets the vehicle and its licensed owner (not necessarily the driver), same as for parking and other vehicle infractions. Nothing wrong with that. It’s your vehicle, and you’re responsible if you allow someone else to use it in an unlawful manner.

Another of the state department’s guidelines states, “Criteria for public awareness and signage alerting drivers in advance that cameras are being used, including for mobile cameras.”

Again, why?

A moment to digress. Why do people keep using the word signage, when the plural of sign is simply signs? I guess signage sounds more sophisticated.

About the warning signs: Do all law breakers need to be warned of monitoring situations with a sign or otherwise before police officers can respond to unlawful or criminal activity?

The bottom line needs to be safety. The Gazette (Dec. 9) reports, “Cedar Rapids’ first two years of using traffic cameras resulted in a 75 percent reduction in injury accidents on the dangerous section of I-380 through the downtown area ... and a 22 percent decrease in such accidents at seven intersections with red-light cameras operating.” It added, “Council Bluffs cited an overall 35 percent reduction in accidents in areas where the cameras are used.”

The overall data I’ve seen shows a modest increase in minor rear-enders shortly after red-light cameras are installed, but a major decrease in far more serious broad-side collisions, which usually result in injuries, or worse.

Most camera opponents ignore the safety factor and appear to focus only on how money from resulting fines are used. It appears to me the opponents’ bottom line is a simple case of not wanting to get caught next time they run a red light or exceed the speed limit.

Bob Elliott, longtime resident of Iowa City, served a term on the City Council and is retired after 30 years at ACT’s national office. Comments:

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