Cedar Rapids will start using its speed cameras on I-380 to issue tickets again on Saturday, June 1, according to a news release from the city. Mayor Brad Hart had announced the city’s intention to this during his State of the City address in February, although he didn’t say when tickets would start being issued.
“If 50 people have talked to me about the cameras, 49 have said please turn the cameras back on,” Hart said in his speech. “And the one that doesn’t like them, doesn’t live in Cedar Rapids.”
Although the cameras have never been turned off, they haven’t been used to issue tickets since 2017, due to lawsuits over the automated enforcement system.
In April 2017, a Polk County judge upheld an Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT) order banning all speed cameras on the state’s highways. IDOT claimed motorists suddenly slowing down because of the presence of speed cameras made highway travel less safe. In April 2018, the Iowa Supreme Court overturned the lower court decision, ruling that IDOT had exceeded its authority in banning the cameras.
Cedar Rapids didn’t resume using the cameras after that April decision, because there was a still a case before the Iowa Supreme Court, in which plaintiffs who had been ticketed by the city alleged the camera system violated their right to due process.
In January, the high court ruled Cedar Rapids use of the cameras is legal.
Writing for the court, Justice Brent Appel said due process claims are most important “when fundamental interests are involved,” but there is “no fundamental interest in the right to travel infringed by the ordinance [authorizing the speed cameras].” According to Appel, the use of automated cameras constitutes a “reasonable fit between the government purpose [increasing public safety by reducing speeding] and the means chosen to advance that purpose.”
Appel acknowledged that many people view the cameras as just “speed traps” and even “Orwellian invasions of privacy.”
While we respectfully acknowledge these concerns, this case involves traffic citations with small fines, not the pumping of a resisting person’s stomach. There is no outrageous utilization of physical force; state-sponsored imposition of uncalled-for embarrassment or ridicule; or intolerable, disreputable, and underhanded tactics that may arise from government action deliberately designed to penetrate attorney–client privilege. Cedar Rapids publicly enacted the ATE [automated traffic enforcement] ordinance, and the ATE system is no secret. The City announces the presence of the cameras on the road. The invasion of privacy associated with a system based upon rear license plate photographs is minimal.
The court also ruled that Cedar Rapids’ use of the cameras did not violate the law by treating local drivers differently. Out-of-state drivers who receive tickets are allowed to file written appeals, but local drivers don’t have that option. Likewise, drivers of commercial big rigs and most government vehicles don’t receive tickets from the cameras, because the database used by Gatso USA, the Massachusetts-based company that installed and runs the cameras for the city, doesn’t include information on their license plates. The court found these were minor discrepancies that did not violate local drivers’ right to equal treatment under the law.
Cedar Rapids began using automated cameras to enforce traffic laws in 2010. The cameras have resulted in more than 500,000 tickets being issued — a record for any Iowa city. In 2016 alone, the cameras were responsible for 143,800 tickets. More than 90 percent of those tickets were from the speed cameras on I-380, which are located at the interstate’s winding “S-curve.”
Between 2010 and 2016, tickets from all of Cedar Rapid’s speed cameras generated more than $3 million a year for the city’s general fund, as well as healthy profits for Gatso USA. The company receives 32 percent of the total revenue generated by the cameras, as well as other fees. In 2016, its share of the revenue increased to 40 percent. Gatso USA earned $2.3 million in 2016, an increase from its total of $2.1 million in 2015.
Last year, Cedar Rapids began using the Iowa Department of Administrative Service’s offset program to seize state tax refunds and other payments to people with unpaid traffic camera fines. The offset program is used to collect debts owed to state and local government agencies. It seizes all state payments to an individual — including state tax refunds, lottery winnings and vendor payments — until the debts are reported as having been paid.
Drivers will only receive warning tickets for the first 30 days. Speed camera tickets with fines attached will start being issued on July 1.