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Iowa lawmakers once again looking at restricting cities’ use of traffic cameras
Police chiefs say cameras have led to fewer fatal and serious crashes
Iowa lawmakers once again are moving forward with a bill that would restrict the ability of cities like Cedar Rapids to use traffic enforcement cameras along interstates, state highways and county roadways.
A three-member House Public Safety subcommittee this week advanced legislation, House File 173, that would prohibit municipalities from placing or using automated traffic enforcement systems along state and county roads within the city’s boundaries, including state highways and interstates.
Placement and use of such devices by cities would be restricted to city streets. However, the bill does not prohibit the Iowa Department of Transportation from placing and using the devices on primary roads, or a county from placing and using cameras on secondary roads. The bill also limits the civil penalty for a traffic citation captured by the traffic enforcement cameras.
In 2018, the cities of Des Moines, Muscatine and Cedar Rapids successfully challenged rules established by the Iowa DOT that prohibited cities from placing the systems on highways and interstates.
“The foundation of the bill is not to eliminate traffic cameras, but just to decide who can place them and where they can place them,” said bill sponsor Rep. Matthew Rinker, R-Burlington. He said the bill still provides cities an opportunity to place traffic cameras on primary roadways through a process that involves the state.
The bill revives attempts over the years by Iowa lawmakers to prohibit or regulate use of the devices, which capture video of vehicles speeding or running red lights. Law enforcement then reviews the images captured by a camera vendor, and issues citations to the vehicle's registered owners.
Iowa cities, including Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and Davenport, see the cameras as traffic safety tools that reduce public safety costs, while some lawmakers slam them as cash-generating constitutional violations. At least 10 Iowa cities have automated traffic enforcement systems, according to the Iowa DOT.
The city of Cedar Rapids began using automated traffic enforcement in 2010. The city uses the cameras at nine locations along its primary highway system and major thoroughfares for both speed and red-light enforcement, including four speed cameras around the S-curve on Interstate 380 near downtown. Speeding citations are issued for vehicles that exceed the posted speed limit by 12 mph or more.
Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman spoke at Tuesday’s legislative hearing, expressing his strong opposition to the bill. Jerman and Des Moines Police Chief Dana Wingert said use of use of the cameras has resulted in a reduction in traffic crashes, including fatal crashes and those with injuries.https://cms8.revize.com/revize/cedarrapids/2022-01%20ATE%20Monthly%20Update.pdf
Both cities worked with the Iowa DOT to identify and place cameras along stretches of Interstate 235 or I-380 with elevated curves prone to crashes but leave no room for stationing squad cars for traffic enforcement.
“Any way you choose to look at this bill, it’s a backdoor ban on the use of ATEs,” Jerman told lawmakers. “I can unequivocally state 100 percent that ATEs save lives.”
Since Cedar Rapids began using the cameras in 2010, Jerman said the city has witnessed only one speed-related fatality collision where cameras are located, which occurred in 2016 “during the period where the state made us turn our cameras off.”
Jerman provided lawmakers with a photo of the crash. A sedan traveling in excess of 100 mph crashed into the back of a Cedar Rapids police sport utility vehicle stopped to investigate a wreck in the southbound lanes of I-380 near the First Avenue W exit. Two Cedar Rapids residents in the sedan died at the scene. Both officers survived, but one was forced to retire a month shy of his 32nd birthday due to his injuries, Jerman said.
“I can’t emphasize enough that we put cameras where the data and the analysis calls for them, and we have seen driver behavior change,” he said.
Part of the revenue from the automated traffic enforcement program is used for public safety purposes, including supporting the funding of 33 Cedar Rapids police officer positions and public safety programs. Money also has been used in the past to purchase police and fire equipment and support social justice programs such as the Citizen Review Board and Urban Dreams.
Since inception, Cedar Rapids has issued about 675,000 citations and roughly half have been paid, Jerman said. During January, Cedar Rapids police officers issued 9,288 citations for speeding and red-light violations captured by the traffic cameras.
The cameras generated more than $5.3 million in revenue from traffic citations for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2022. And the city has budgeted for nearly $6 million in revenue generated by the traffic cameras for the current fiscal year.
Cedar Rapids partners with vendor Sensys Gatso USA Inc. to run the program. For red light citations, Sensys Gatso receives $22 per paid citation and the city receives $78 per paid citation. For speed citations, the vendor receives $20 per paid citation and the amount to the city varies depending on the amount of the fine.
The bill, with Republican support, advanced to the full House Public Safety Committee for consideration. Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, D-Des Moines, declined to sign off on the bill.
“I think that since we as legislators want to help our law enforcement officers provide public safety that we should support them,” Abdul-Samad said.
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