Iowa House Panel Approves Red Light, Speed Camera Ban

Radar-enabled speed cameras are attached to a sign post as traffic moves along northbound Interstate 380 near the Diagonal Dr. SW exit on Friday, May 21, 2010, in Cedar Rapids. The cameras will record speeders and issue a ticket for the infraction. (Jim Slosiarek/SourceMedia Group News)

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By Kara Kelly

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A legislative panel approved a measure Wednesday banning the use of automated red light and speed cameras, despite testimony from law enforcement and city officials supporting their use.

A House transportation subcommittee moved the bill forward to the full House Transportation Committee. And Rep. Walt Rogers, a Cedar Falls Republican overseeing the legislation, thinks the bill has a chance of being approved this year.

"I do think there's good support for it in our caucus," Rogers said.

Several Iowa cities use the devices, including Des Moines and Cedar Rapids. Officials from those cities told lawmakers both data and anecdotal evidence indicate that the cameras are reducing the number and severity of crashes and calming traffic overall.

The bill, if approved, would take effect July 1.

Data from cameras put in place at five of Des Moines' busiest and most dangerous intersections in 2011 show accidents down 33 percent compared to data from the previous four years. Des Moines Police Capt. Doug Harvey said while data for the city's relatively new program may be premature, he's seen firsthand the result speed cameras on Interstate 235 in particular have had on traffic.

"The amount of traffic weaving in and out on a day-to-day basis is so much better," Harvey said.

Year-end data from Cedar Rapids' program shows traffic crashes in the city down 22 percent, fatal crashes down 80 percent and crashes on Interstate 380 dropped significantly.

But Rogers and Rep. Ralph Watts, an Adel Republican, questioned the cameras' effectiveness and said they may violate civil liberties. Watts also asked whether cities may rely on the revenue the cameras provide.

"The question I have is how far do you go to monitor the population with cameras?" Watts asked.

Conservative radio host Simon Conway, who presented 10,000 signatures to Gov. Terry Branstad last week in support of banning the devices, said data from the cities isn't conclusive and some reports are deceptive.

Branstad said then he'd sign a bill banning the devices.

"Unfortunately (police departments) around the county are doing this same kind of smoke and mirrors stuff," Conway said.

But Harvey and Cedar Rapids Police Capt. Steve O'Konek maintain that the cameras are accurate and effective, and have freed up officers' time for other duties. They also believe the devices are increasingly well-received.

"We're starting to see a change in public opinion," O'Konek said.

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