Staff Editorials

Lawmakers should pick compromise on traffic cameras

Traffic cameras are installed on signs northbound on Interstate 380 at J Avenue in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016. More than 60,000 tickets were issued from that traffic camera location in 2015. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Traffic cameras are installed on signs northbound on Interstate 380 at J Avenue in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016. More than 60,000 tickets were issued from that traffic camera location in 2015. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

In the debate over automated traffic enforcement cameras, state lawmakers have a clear choice. Will it be a my-way-or-the-highway-style legislative edict, or a reasonable compromise in the interest of highway safety?

We urge them to pick a compromise, in the form of SF 196, which cleared the Senate Transportation Committee on a 12-1 voter earlier this month. They should scrap SF 3, approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

SF 3, sponsored by Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale and Judiciary Committee chair, would ban the use of automated traffic cameras, including speed and red light cameras, on July 1. It would substitute the blunt judgment of state lawmakers for that of local leaders and law enforcement officials.

SF 196, floor-managed by Sen. Dan Zumbach, R-Ryan, would permit local traffic camera systems, but only if they receive approval from the Iowa Department of Transportation. Cameras would be allowed only in high-crash areas where traditional traffic enforcement puts peace officers at risk. State-designed signage would be required, as well as peace officer review of citations. Fines would be limited and weekly camera calibration would be mandated. Money collected from fines would go for local street projects.

Camera systems approved by the DOT before Jan. 1, 2017, would be allowed to remain in place.

We see SF 196 as a reasonable solution to the camera debate, permitting local law enforcement to deploy an enforcement tool under the watchful eye of tight, sensible state oversight.

Much is at stake. According to data compiled by the Legislative Services Agency, eight Iowa cities and one county have deployed 79 traffic cameras, with annual citations topping 338,000 and annual revenue of $13.6 million. Cedar Rapids alone has 28 cameras, both speed and red light systems, which issued 154,323 citations in Fiscal year 2016, generating $4.4 million in revenue for the city.

Cedar Rapids police and elected officials have made a compelling case locally that the city’s camera system has improved safety. That’s especially true on I-380’s S-curve, which is difficult and dangerous to patrol. But we also think state oversight is appropriate for systems that affect motorists from all over Iowa and beyond.

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Abruptly dismantling these systems would be a shortsighted move. Lawmakers should instead speed toward compromise.

• Comments: (319) 398-8469; editoral@thegazette.com

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