Red-light camera

A red-light camera is seen at the intersection of Sergeant Road and South Lakeport Street in Sioux City.

Journal file photo by Jim Lee

DES MOINES - Law officers from cities that operate speed and red-light cameras made a show of force Tuesday at the Statehouse in support of the automated traffic-enforcement systems.

Davenport Police Chief Frank Donchez Jr. told a House subcommittee he didn't understand "why there's such a hubbub" over the cameras that have dramatically reduced crashes at intersection, slowed vehicle speeds and caused insurance rates to "tickle down" over his community's seven-year experience with traffic-control cameras.

Likewise, Cedar Rapids Policy Chief Greg Graham said his town has seen similar double-digit drops in vehicles crashes, injuries and traffic violations since cameras went up last year.

"I can tell you it's been very successful," he told lawmakers. "It's changed driver behavior in Cedar Rapids."

Law officers from at least five Iowa communities were drawn to the Capitol for the start of work by a House Transportation subcommittee on a measure (House Study Bill 93) that proposes to bring uniformity in the operation of automated traffic enforcement systems and cap fines imposed for violations detected by speed or red-light cameras at $50. The bill also would require signage denoting camera-enforced areas and verification of violations by a certified police officer.

"We aren't looking at a ban," said Rep. Ralph Watts, R-Adel, chairman of the five-member House subcommittee. "Since these have become quite common throughout the state, there may be a need for them to be standardized. We've got a variety of policies. We hope to bring some uniformity to that."

Police officials testified that the driving force behind the cameras is public safety, not revenue, but Watts requested numbers from communities with camera systems to verify that claim.

Donchez said the city's share of revenue from the new enforcement tool has enabled police to purchase "speed boards" to be operated near Davenport's schools to help hold down speeds in zones where children are present. Graham said all the proceeds in Cedar Rapids have been pumped back into public safety and have reduced the potential for property tax increases. He noted that about 1 percent of the 1.3 million cars that travel Interstate 380 daily in Cedar Rapids are going in excess of 69 mph and "those are the people that we're holding accountable."

"The point of the system is to get people to slow down, not to cite them," Graham said. "We're not sneaking around, jumping out from behind a billboard and scaring people."

Rep. Walt Rogers, R-Waterloo, said the traffic cameras appear to have produced some "real good success," but he noted there are concerns the use of automated traffic enforcement devices could "go too far."

Megan Peiffer of the Iowa League of Cities said she understands "the Big Brother fear that's out there," but she noted that voters can hold elected officials accountable if they do not support the placement of traffic-enforcement cameras.

"When we went to stop watches to radar there was a big hullabaloo and outcry if we can trust that technology and now it's standard operating procedure," said Clive City Manger Dennis Henderson, who noted that stop lights have replaced police patrol at many intersections.

Marty Ryan of Fawkes-Lee & Ryan public policy advocates said he was concerned about the potential for abuse if the popularity of the cameras spreads to smaller communities and the changes proposed in House Study Bill 93 would be better than the current situation. He said he supported the $50 limit on fines and, while he anticipated there would be attempts to raise that level, he added that "it shouldn't become the cash cow that many people think it is."

Watts said he expected to hold one more subcommittee meeting on the proposed legislation to allow time for it to be considered by the full House Transportation Committee before the March 4 "funnel" deadline for policy bills to clear one legislative committee to remain eligible for debate yet this session.

 

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