Traffic Cameras- Saving Lives or Unfairly Targeting Iowans and Invading Privacy?
As many know or have experienced, Iowa cities have been following a national trend by installing cameras to monitor compliance with traffic laws, including speed limits and traffic lights at intersections. In fact, on August 29 of 2008, the Supreme Court of Iowa held that state law did not preempt municipalities' authority to establish municipal ordinances allowing for automated traffic systems. (opinion) Specifically, the Court held that the municipal ordinance in question, in this case from Davenport, did not violate the Iowa state statute requiring uniform traffic laws. However, this decision was not unanimous and Justice Wiggins articulated a pointed dissent disagreeing with the Court's outcome and reasoning. Further, this challenge did not present other arguments against such ordinances such as due process issues. Regardless, as the law is presently construed, camera enforcement of traffic laws is currently legal in Iowa and in use. The cities of Des Moines, Clive, Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, Davenport, Dubuque, Council Bluffs, Sioux City, Muscatine, and Belle Plain are among those that are currently using traffic enforcement cameras to some extent. Iowa City, Libertyville, and others are either considering or implementing such enforcement as well. For a comprehensive list of all such lights in Iowa, click here.
The use of these cameras have many implications and have some Iowans uneasy. On the one hand, municipalities argue that these cameras increase safety and save lives. In fact, a recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway safety found that red light cameras specifically are saving lives. (study). The study generally found a significant drop in fatal crashes at intersections controlled by traffic lights in the cities studied. However, not everyone is convinced and certain advocacy and other groups are concerned with proper administration and oversight of the system, abuse by municipalities for a source of revenue, and violations of drivers, rights and civil liberties. For a recent article on KCCI.com regarding this study and the reaction to it, click here.
Problems that Iowans and advocacy groups foresee and that have come up in the past include citing drivers based only on the vehicle driven. This is due to the fact that generally ,citations are issued only based upon a picture taken of the license plate on the car. Such citations are then simply mailed to the registered owner without regard to who was actually driving the car. These concerns among others have led to some legislators in Iowa questioning the propriety of the systems completely. In fact, a group of Iowa senators is now making an effort to ban the use of cameras that monitor speeding and red light compliance completely. (KCCI story) The concerns noted by our senators include big brother-like involvement by cities as well as unfair revenue sources.
Many of us have personally, or know of someone who, has been involved in an accident as a result of someone running a red light. These types of collisions are extraordinarily dangerous as they often occur at high speeds and the mechanisms of injury result from extreme and unnatural forces on the human body, especially in the case of a T-bone type accident. Those of us who have experienced this or had a love one experience such an accident know the effect that they can have. Certainly, measures that increase driver's safety and decrease traffic fatalities need to continue to be pursued. However, such methods cannot be undertaken at any cost to society or the individual drivers on the roads in Iowa today and as with all laws and safety precautions, a balance of drivers rights and safety must be achieved.