Iowa lawmakers hoping for green light on traffic camera ban

Speed camera on University Avenue in Windsor Heights. (Caroline Cummings)

Iowa is the only state in the country with permanent speed cameras on its highways and Iowa lawmakers are hoping to put a bill that would ban traffic cameras on the fast track this session.

House Study Bill 512 would ban all traffic cameras in the state, including those speed cameras on highways and elsewhere and red light cameras.

"Hopefully we'll get it done this year," said Rep. Jake Highfill, R-Johnston, who is the chair of the House Local Government Committee that submitted the study bill.

“I believe this issue spans party politics," Highfill said, saying he's gotten support from both Republicans and Democrats on the issue.

Some opposed to a full ban say the cameras promote safety. But Steve Gent, director of traffic and safety at the Iowa Department of Transportation, said there’s not enough evidence to support that claim, in part because Iowa is the only state with permanent cameras and also because there aren't enough cameras to provide sufficient data to make meaningful analysis.

"We do not have good research to show that these types of cameras really reduce crashes," Gent said. He noted that there is data tracked in places like Des Moines, Sioux City and Cedar Rapids, but said that data is "by no means comprehensive enough" and that there isn't enough situations to really determine either claim—that they help or hinder safety measures.

"Clearly they aren't hugely effective because the number of crashes hasn't changed significantly," Gent said.

Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, who is the bill manager, believes the cameras actually make the roads less safe.

"People slow up; they slam their brakes, which particularly if there is any sort of bad weather, you can endanger the people around you, behind you and in front of you, then speed back up and you slow down and you speed back up all to cater to these cameras," Kaufmann said.

Kaufmann and Highfill think speed cameras are more focused on fines from traffic tickets and believe they're examples of government overreach, rather than safety.

A bill passed the Senate last session that would keep some traffic cameras in high risk areas, but failed to get enough support in the House.

Kaufmann said he'd be willing to have a conversation about those opposing the ban and those who want a compromise, but he remains clear in his position.

"My message loud and clear from my chair and my constituents has been to proceed with the ban,” Kaufmann.

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