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New rules for traffic cameras could affect small Iowa cities

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(The Center Square) – Small Iowa cities that write citations based on automated traffic cameras could lose revenue if a bill passed by lawmakers is signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds.

House File 2681 would require local municipalities in Iowa to seek approval from the Department of Transportation. Citations could only be issued for traffic violations exceeding the speed limit by over 10 miles per hour.

Cities with a population of 20,000 or less would be prohibited from using data from traffic cameras to issue citations. They would only be allowed to issue warnings detected by the system, according to the bill.

At least 25 Iowa cities and towns currently use ATE systems, according to the bill’s fiscal note. The bill would reduce local revenue for the cities of Buffalo and LeClaire since they have populations below 20,000 and would no longer be permitted to issue citations. Buffalo would lose an estimated $121,000, which is 33% of its revenue. LeClaire would lose 20% of its revenue – $341,000, the note said.

The bill also limits how high citations could go for certain traffic violations. For example, someone driving between 10 to 20 miles per hour over the speed limit could not be issued a citation above $75.

However, the full fiscal impact of the bill across all localities could not be estimated, according to the fiscal note. The bill goes into effect immediately upon the governor’s signature.

At least 18 states have communities where speed cameras are used, according to a traffic safety review published in 2022 by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Eight states – Maine, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, South Carolina, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin – prohibit speed cameras via state law, according to the review.

Speed cameras are also no longer used in Missouri after two state Supreme Court rulings in 2015 found red-light and speed cameras were unconstitutional, the review said.

Automated traffic enforcement programs are controversial among the public, the review found. A traffic safety culture index from AAA showed less than half of respondents “somewhat” or “strongly supported” using cameras to ticket drivers. An oft-cited reason for opposing automated traffic enforcement was the perception that such programs are revenue-generating tools, according to the index.

A report issued by the Governors Highway Safety Association in December argues that automated traffic cameras could affect dangerous driving habits.

“A plethora of studies confirm that speeding, red-light and school bus stop-arm camera programs are a proven way to change driver behavior, resulting in increased safety for everyone on the road,” the organization said in a news release in conjunction with State Farm. “Automated enforcement can also supplement traditional traffic enforcement while addressing potential inequities, since cameras do not see race or ethnicity.”

GHSA recommends in the report that revenue should be used for maintaining the traffic cameras, with excess revenue allocated to traffic safety initiatives.

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