Traffic cameras

CAPITOL LETTERS

BY STATE REPRESENTATIVE GARY WORTHAN

District 11, R-Storm Lake

Chairman of the Justice Systems Appropriations Subcommittee

One of the more intractable issues in the Legislature over the last several years has been the topic of traffic cameras. Traffic cameras are primarily used for speed enforcement and red light violations. The business model that is most prevalent in Iowa is for a private company to contract with a government entity to place and monitor these cameras in exchange for a portion of the fine revenue, in some cases as high as 33%. In practice the details have run the gamut.  On one end of the spectrum, the camera company places the cameras, analyzes the video, assesses fines, collects the fines, then rebates the city’s portion. The other end of the spectrum is where the city takes an active role in the analyses, levies and collects the fine and pays the camera company. The Legislature has made some progress as it has required that the analyses of the video and the assessing of fines must be done by a certified peace officer. Also, the state has control of the placement of cameras on state-owned roadways, but that is as far as we have gotten. Proponents of the cameras, and those who are adamantly opposed, have been at loggerheads and prevented any further progress.

The crux of the disagreement has been in determining the true intent of camera usage. Proponents posit that the only purpose of a traffic camera is safety and that the fine revenue is secondary and unimportant. There is some anecdotal evidence to support the safety claim, but there is not a lot of solid peer-reviewed research that backs up that claim. Opponents claim that the cameras are simply a money grab and the uses to which some of the cities have applied the revenue would indicate that money was the prime motivator and traffic safety was secondary.

We are currently working on a bill in the Public Safety Committee that attempts to address the concerns on both sides. The first provision of the bill would mandate that a city would need to show that a location has an excessive number traffic incidents before a camera could be used. Under discussion is whether to limit the portion of the fine revenue that can go to the camera company. The location of permanent traffic cameras will have to be clearly indicated up to 1,000 feet prior to the site. After the camera company is paid, the remainder will be split 40% to the city, 60% to the state. It will be mandatory that the city spend its share on public safety. The state’s portion will be dedicated to the Department of Public Safety for their equipment and operations. The hope is that these new regulations will remove any financial incentive to install traffic cameras, but still allow use of cameras where there are available options to improve safety and change behavior. In my opinion the most amazing statistic in this whole discussion is that the state’s 60% share of traffic camera fines could put as much as $7 million per year into the Department of Public Safety. Put in broader terms, the few cities in Iowa that are using traffic cameras are collecting approximately $16 million in fines, much of which is from Iowans who are uninformed about traffic cameras.

On March 11 my bill that will make impeding traffic by blocking the left lane of a multi-lane highway a scheduled offense on the House floor. I have been amazed by the number of people who have come to me expressing their frustration with this situation and supporting this bill. I believe that this bill has struck a nerve with many Iowans.

Our next forum will be at 10 a.m. on Saturday, March 16 at King’s Pointe in Storm Lake.