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Home / New proposal would ban traffic cameras in Iowa
A dozen Senate Republicans have banded together in hopes of putting an end to cameras that monitor speeding and red-light violations along streets or highways in Iowa.
“Traffic cameras just seem to smack of Big Brother to me,” said Sen. Steve Kettering, R-Lake View, one of 12 GOP senators co-sponsoring Senate File 129, a measure that would impose a statewide prohibition on the use of automated traffic enforcement systems and would provide for the termination of existing systems like the ones that monitor Interstate 380 for speeding violations in Cedar Rapids or red-light violations at intersections in Clive.
Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, the measure's lead sponsor, said Thursday he heard numerous complaints from residents in his Senate district and from Cedar Rapidians during his unsuccessful run for Congress last year in Iowa's 3rd congressional district. However, the clincher came when he received a speeding citation in the mail from Cedar Rapids for a vehicle registered in his name but that was operated at the time by his son.
“I think it's wrong what they're doing,” said Zaun, who will lead a three-member Senate subcommittee that will study the proposal. “I just think it's become a cash cow for cities and the people that I represent say get rid of them.”
The bill defines an automated traffic enforcement system as a device with one or more sensors working in conjunction with an official traffic-control device, a speed measuring device, a railroad grade crossing signal light or any other official traffic-control device if failure to comply with the device would constitute a moving violation. The definition included within its scope devices known as “red light camera” or speed cameras,” according to Senate File 129.
The bill prohibits the state Department of Transportation and local authorities from placing the devices on or adjacent to a highway or maintaining or employing the use of such a system for enforcement of state or local motor-vehicle laws effective July 1. Local authorities that currently are using the automated traffic enforcement systems would have to discontinue their use and remove the equipment on or before July 1 and all local ordinances authorizing their use would be void.
However, notices of violations that were mailed or citations which were issued before July 1 would not be invalidated by the prohibition and would remain enforceable.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said he believed the traffic-monitoring cameras have saved lives, but Zaun and Kettering said they've not seen data that backs up that claim.
House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, said “there's no question” that speed-monitoring devices on I-380 have changed driving habits for the better. He said he was uncertain what the fate of S.F.129 would be in the House – controlled 60-40 by Republicans – if it passed the Senate and made it to his chamber.
Sen. Tom Rielly, D-Oskaloosa, a subcommittee member and chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said he was driving in the Chicago suburb of Aurora where speed-monitoring signs are posted and noticed that the flow of traffic slowed down in that area and believed the cameras were effective in improving public safety. He also expressed reservations to S.F. 129 from a local-control perspective.
“Being a former mayor, I never really liked it when people up here started telling us how we should run our city,” Rielly said.
Sen. Tom Courtney, D-Burlington, said he was surprised to receive a letter from Clive authorities that contained a photo of his Corvette going through an intersection that he believed was a yellow light at the time. But the letter also contained a citation for a red-light violation.
“Now I stop on yellows,” he said.
Courtney said he believed the monitoring devices probably are good if it can be proved that they save lives. “I just want to make sure that it's saving lives and not just making money,” he said.
Rep. David Tjepkes, R-Gowrie, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, has asked DOT officials for information about how state regulate the use of speed cameras and red-light cameras. He said he wants to make sure the use of monitoring cameras is uniform across the state, that cities can justify when and where they are installed, and that cameras are used as a tool in an overall traffic enforcement strategy.
DOT Director Nancy Richardson said Iowans should not expect to see traffic-monitoring cameras on state or interstate highways any time soon.
Richardson said her agency looked at the possibility of placing speed-monitoring cameras in highway work zones to increase safety for workers. but “we're not doing anything active right now.” She said that was the only application under consideration, although she discussed placing cameras to deter excessive speeds on the interstate system with the former state public safety commissioner but nothing materialized. “Given all the priorities, we just haven't done anything about that and I don't know that we will,” she said.