New Iowa Traffic Camera Study: How Relevant For Cedar Rapids?

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - We all drive under the I-380 traffic cameras and have for four years.

Those who drive at 67 miles per hour or faster on I-380 at four different locations in Cedar Rapids, a $75 citation usually follows in the mailbox within two weeks.

This has been the case for hundreds of thousands of drivers, stretching across all 99 counties in Iowa and all 50 states.

While Cedar Rapids may be known around Iowa for its traffic cameras, the issue of traffic cameras is the subject of an investigative report, released on Thursday by IowaWatch.org.

The report:
http://iowawatch.org/2014/03/20/contradicting-studies-on-traffic-camera-safety-impact-make-regulation-a-judgment-call/

Much of the detailed report into Iowa's traffic cameras centers on red light violations.

Iowa Department of Transportation Office of Traffic and Safety Director Steve Gent was quoted in the article that, "increasing (traffic camera enforcement) may improve the safety for a while until drivers adapt, at which time the safety would go back to the pre-test levels."

While Cedar Rapids has racked up, by far, the most violations for any city in Iowa with traffic cameras (at least 283,000 as of a May 2013 KCRG-TV 9 investigation), our data has revealed less than 4% of violations are actually from red-light citations. The rest are for speeding, with 86% of the violations from 2010-2013 coming from I-380 drivers hitting at least 67 miles per hour where the speed limit is 55.

Cedar Rapids Public Safety Spokesman Greg Buelow reviewed the IowaWatch.org study and noted enhanced safety in the intersections where red-light cameras are operating.

"When you look at the traffic enforcement cameras in any area where there's a traffic enforcement camera since their installation, there has not been a fatality," said Buelow.

He also added that, on Interstate 380, the volume of crashes is down as well as the severity.

"The collisions that are occuring are 'property damage only', which means the cameras seem to be influencing driver behavior and making them safer," said Buelow.

The balance of revenue for a city weighed against rights of privacy and issues of public safety are always paramount in this issue.

Our May 2013 investigation found:
- Violators paid $14.8 million dollars in citations, with $9 million as net revenue to the Cedar Rapids Police Department's general fund. The remaining $5.8 million went to GATSO, the company that installed and operates the cameras.
- 61% of 2012 violators were Iowa drivers. Down from 76% in 2010.
- Citations in 2012 averaged 7,978 per month.

The IowaWatch.org study also revealed that Cedar Rapids had more than twice the number of violations (86,552) from a one-year span in 2012-13 than Des Moines, the second-largest ticket-issuing entity in Iowa.

Nicholas Johnson, an adjunct faculty member of the University of Iowa College of Law, was quoted in the IowaWatch.org article and also spoke with KCRG on Thursday.

"We have to look at the red-light cameras and the context of living in a surveillance state, whether it's coming from NSA, Facebook or businesses on the web or with the Iowa City Police Department," said Johnson.

This comes as Iowa City has been in the midst of a vocal battle over red-light cameras in recent years. Police Chief Sam Hargadine has supported their installation and operation, especially in a city with heavy pedestrian traffic.

Yet, last year, the Iowa City Council passed a law to ban traffic enforcement, drones and most uses of license-plate readers. Also, last summer, Clive, west of Des Moines, chose not to renew its contract with a red-light traffic camera company.

"What are the ethical, legal and social issues?" said Johnson. "It's not just a matter of how much money we can raise. When we look at these cameras, there's a lot more research and thought that goes into it."
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