Red Light Cameras Turned off in South Dakota, Less Likely in Iowa

A Gatso USA systems engineer makes adjustments to the red light camera aimed at the northbound lanes at the intersection of Edgewood Rd. NE and 42nd St. NE on Thursday, April 8, 2010, in northeast Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

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By Aaron Hepker

CEDAR RAPIDS - Red light cameras were turned off Friday in Sioux Falls, S.D. after a circuit judge’s decision that the city’s ordinance conflicts with state law.

But the lawyer involved in Iowa’s most high-profile case against the automated cameras said a similar result in Iowa would be a long shot.

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that a Davenport camera ordinance did not violate the common statute that all traffic laws must be “uniform.” It paved the way for other cities, including Cedar Rapids, to move forward with automated enforcement.

Michael McCarthy, the Davenport attorney who represented Thomas Seymour in the case that reached the Supreme Court, said someone may challenge the cameras again in Iowa, but he said it would be a “hard sell.”

“We had the best opportunity… and we lost,” McCarthy said.

High courts in other states have been mixed on the legality of red light cameras and other traffic cameras. In the past two years, rulings have shut down the cameras in Minnesota, Missouri and now South Dakota.

Three weeks ago, Judge Kathy Caldwell wrote in an 11-page decision that Sioux Falls police could not legally write civil traffic tickets for red light running, because that type of traffic violation is a criminal act under state law.

Motorists in Cedar Rapids also are assessed a civil penalty if they are caught by the cameras. Police Capt. Steve O’Konek said he expects some type of challenge on the legality of the cameras, but so far, the city has been operating based on the Supreme Court’s decision.

“People certainly have the right to challenge us on that,” O’Konek said. “We’ll certainly take our best case to court, and I’m sure they will, as well.”

Cedar Rapids City Attorney Jim Flitz and Police Chief Greg Graham were both out of the office Tuesday and could not be reached for comment.

Cedar Rapids joined Davenport, Sioux City, Council Bluffs and Clive when the red light cameras were installed in February. Des Moines and Ankeny are currently considering camera enforcement.

In South Dakota, the four-year legal battle rages. But for now, the red light cameras aren’t running.

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