|Someone should install a traffic light on the floor of the Iowa Senate - to stop about a dozen state lawmakers. They're trying to outlaw cameras that monitor red-light and speeding violations. It's time to slam on their brakes and kick this bad idea to the curb.|
State Sen. Brad Zaun (R-Urbandale) is the lead sponsor of legislation that would ban the cameras that snap pictures of traffic violators. (He received a speeding ticket in the mail from Cedar Rapids, where his son apparently was driving a car registered to Zaun). The senator complains the cameras are a "cash cow" for cities.
So what if they are?
Municipalities need money to do everything from plowing streets to paying police to maintaining parks. There is nothing wrong with cities collecting money from lawbreakers. In fact, where better to get it?
But the more important issue is the cameras save lives.
A new study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found red-light cameras saved 159 lives in 2004-08 in 14 of the largest cities. Researchers looked at cities with populations over 200,000, compared those with cameras to those without and considered cities' crash rates before and after they were installed.
The bottom line: The rate of fatal red-light-running crashes in cities with cameras was 24 percent lower than it would have been without cameras.
"The cities that have the courage to use red-light cameras despite the political backlash are saving lives," said Institute President Adrian Lund.
And several Iowa cities - including Clive, Cedar Rapids, Council Bluffs and Davenport - found that courage. Other cities are in the midst of mustering it.
Meanwhile, a handful of lawmakers have come barreling in to stop local ordinances authorizing the use of cameras.
Sen. Steve Kettering (R-Lake View) said the cameras "just seem to smack of Big Brother."
Oh, the irony. The epitome of Big Brother is state lawmakers trying to micromanage what cities can and can't do - to generate revenue and improve safety for residents.
The cameras are a good idea. Over time, as more are installed, drivers will think twice about running red lights or speeding. They are part of the evolution of catching traffic scofflaws and improving road safety in this country.
In 2008, the Iowa Supreme Court determined using the cameras does not conflict with state traffic laws. Writing the majority opinion, Justice Brent R. Appel recognized there was once a "blue-suited patrolman with outstretched arms" and a whistle directing traffic. The officer was replaced by stoplights.
When radar to catch speeders was introduced, it was attacked as "Orwellian," he wrote. Now radar is a "standard tool of law enforcement."
Eventually, the same will be true for cameras. They save lives. They generate needed revenue for cities. And they free police officers to respond to emergencies, rather than writing tickets for traffic violations.