116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Cedar Rapids once again is fighting against Iowa lawmakers’ attempts to regulate or ban automated traffic enforcement camera systems — devices that local law enforcement officials say promote safety, while critics say they are cash-generating constitutional violations.
In a January legislative hearing on Senate File 2061, which would ban cities or other entities from using the devices if installed or operated by an out-of-state company, KWWL reported Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman testified: “Deploying automated traffic enforcement cameras, we have reduced speed-related collisions — collisions that result in injuries and collisions that result in the loss of life.” The city contracts with Massachusetts-based Sensys Gatso for its traffic cameras.
While Jerman is not an elected official, he was testifying on the program to elected officials who could decide the fate of automated traffic cameras. That bill passed out of committee but did not meet legislative hurdles to advance further. Another proposal that would ban the cameras, Senate File 2319, was pulled off the agenda for Senate debate this week.
Let’s take a look at the data showing how Cedar Rapids’ automated traffic enforcement cameras have reduced collisions.
Cedar Rapids’ system became operational in 2010 but was stopped for some time in April 2017, after the Iowa Department of Transportation in 2015 said some cameras on or near Iowa highways had to be shut down as they caused motorists to drive dangerously slow.
The cameras remained in use until the Polk County District Court in 2017 ruled the Iowa DOT had authority over the devices. In 2018, the Iowa Supreme Court ultimately reversed that ruling and found Iowa DOT lacked the authority to regulate the cameras.
Cedar Rapids reactivated the devices in July 2019. The cameras also were out of commission for a bit after the Aug. 10, 2020, derecho.
In fiscal 2021, which ended June 30, 2021, Cedar Rapids reports it took in over $8 million from issuing citations through its automated camera system.
Before the re-activation of cameras in 2019, according to the city, there was a 43.2 percent chance that a crash resulted in an injury. That likelihood dropped to 22.6 percent after activation.
City data shows crashes overall and collisions causing injury on Interstate 380 have fallen with the use of the cameras, which are situated on both ends of the interstate’s S-curve through downtown. Average crashes with injury per month have decreased from 1.81 to 0.9, a decline of 50.3 percent. Average crashes overall per month fell 26.2 percent, from 4.58 to 3.38.
The city also compared six street intersections with and six without traffic cameras to show that those with the devices see fewer collisions overall, and fewer causing injury and property damage.
Intersections with cameras saw a total of 17 crashes resulting in injury and 36 causing property damage. Much of that was driven by collisions on northbound Center Point Road, which saw seven injury-causing and 14 property-damaging crashes. Edgewood Road and 42nd Street NE as well as Williams Boulevard and 16th Avenue SW each saw just one collision causing injury out of 16 crashes combined.
Meanwhile, all six intersections without cameras had more than one collision resulting in injury, for a total of 21. Another 90 had property damage.
It’s worth noting this is a limited sample, since it does not include data of the same intersections before cameras were installed.
Fatal crashes also have fallen with the use of cameras. The city counted seven fatal crashes without the devices from 2003 to 2009, whereas there was just one with the cameras in place from 2010 to 2017. There were no fatalities recorded July 2019 through December 2020, and one fatality in 2021.
Jerman is correct that with traffic cameras, Cedar Rapids has seen fewer collisions, and that includes crashes resulting in fatalities and injuries. It’s possible that some of the reduced collisions may be caused by factors not related to the traffic cameras, such as fewer motorists driving in 2020 at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but he’s right about the overall downward trend in crashes. We give Jerman an A.
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Members of the Fact Checker team are Elijah Decious, Erin Jordan, Marissa Payne and Michaela Ramm. This Fact Checker was researched and written by Marissa Payne.