Smile, You’re on Red Light Camera

Thanks to the Iowa Supreme Court’s August ruling in favor of Davenport’s effort to catch red-light-runners using surveillance cameras, the issue is back on the agenda in Cedar Rapids. The Gazette’s Rick Smith has the skinny in this morning’s paper:

Red-light cameras may be coming to a crash-prone intersection near you.

That’s because the Police Department is dusting off a 2005 idea and will talk to the City Council at noon today about using cameras to catch those who run red lights.

The intersection cameras – both touted as a way to reduce accidents and renounced as a Big Brother tactic to try to generate city revenue – operate in Iowa at some spots in Council Bluffs and Clive in suburban Des Moines, where the two cities issue tickets based on what a camera catches there.

Davenport has done the same, has cameras in place and is readying to reactive them while Sioux City will have cameras installed by March.

 I understand the arguments in favor of cameras. Backers cite studies showing a reduction in crashes at monitored intersections. The article points to a Davenport study that showed a 40 percent reduction in crashes related to running lights.

They also generate revenue, although backers try to downplay that fact because it makes citizens mad. I don’t blame cash-strapped municipalities from trying to make a few extra bucks, especially when state lawmakers are largely indifferent to their struggle.

But I can’t help but cringe every time we surrender a little more freedom/privacy to technology and safety.

I don’t like the fact that camera tickets are based on license plate numbers, so if I let a buddy borrow my car and he runs a red light, I get the ticket. The police don’t care if they get the right guy, as long as the fine gets paid  It’s a civil infraction, which means officials can get around all those pesky criminal rights issues.

And if we’re going to start a camera crack down, I hope it coincides with a city effort to better coordinate  signals to the flow of traffic. I don’t know how many speed limit rides to work I’ve spent stopped at virtually every light. It’s a big complaint among drivers, and studies show poorly timed lights waste gasoline.

Cameras are coming. There’s nothing we can do about it. And frankly, privacy has become quaint in an era where people put their whole lives on Facebook etc. for the whole world to see.

But we can at least let local leaders know that we expect them to be used in a limited and responsible way. And we hope that remote-control policing isn’t unduly expanded in the future.

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4 Comments

Filed under Cedar Rapids, Cedar Rapids City Council, Privacy, Red Light Cameras, Traffic Laws

4 responses to “Smile, You’re on Red Light Camera

  1. Rob

    I am 100% for personal liberties, but I still fail to understand what the big brew-haha is about “red-light cameras”. If I remember correctly, running a red-light is against the law and if catching a few of these individuals in an automated and semi-efficient manner helps reduce the number of future would-be red-light runners, then more power to them. You can cry all you want about it not being fair and against our personal liberities, but I don’t seem to have enough smarts to understand this argument.

    About the timing of lights and the effect of ill-times liights on gas mileage, I guess I see a better alternative than lights at major intersections. Why are round-abouts frowned upon and ignored in this part of the country. Are we that much of a collection of bad drivers that we can’t seem to understand how to merge into traffic without freaking about it?

  2. KIM

    What about the liberties of the person killed by someone running a red light? I’m not the least bit worried about my “liberties”, if you obey the law you won’t have a problem. Unfortunately there are too many drivers that see a red light (or a stop sign) as merely a suggestion to slow down or stop (maybe) if it suits them. Red light cameras are way over due in Cedar Rapids.

  3. JimD

    “But I can’t help but cringe every time we surrender a little more freedom/privacy to technology and safety.”

    I couldn’t agree more. Sure, the cameras are really only an inconvenience for lawbreakers, but they’re sort of a harbinger of the creepy Orwellian world that awaits us, at least in regards to driving. The one were the state requires us to buy car insurance to get license plates, and to be eligible for the insurance, one must have a special GPS device installed on their car.

    The insurance company will then use the information from the GPS unit to determine a “risk assessment” of every individual and charge accordingly. Any large slip-ups while driving will lead to a fine being paid to the municipality where the infraction occurred and an immediate increase in rates.

    Multiple infractions, however slight, will also cause things such as a lowering of one’s credit score and increased license plate fees. In fact, after awhile the system will be so streamlined, a person will just receive a custom-adjusted debit each month from their bank account to cover their PMDRA – projected monthly driving risk assessment. If the money’s not there, the GPS unit will automatically disable one’s car until it is. Anyone caught driving with a “rigged” or by-passed system of any sort will be punishable by means of the long arm of the law all the way up their tailpipe.

    It’s not a pretty picture.

  4. sam bergus

    I agree with Rob, and many traffic experts do as well. Roundabouts are much more efficient and safe method to manage intersections. And while they take a little getting used to, so did traffic lights, stop signs, and any traffic law.

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