Iowa Supreme Court rules in favor of Cedar Rapids’ I-380 speed cameras

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Photo by Kurt Zenisek

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled on Friday that Cedar Rapids’ speed cameras are legal. The decision came in a class action lawsuit that argued the city’s use of speed cameras, and its contracting of a private company that profits from the speeding fines to operate the cameras and issue tickets, violated a driver’s right to due process.

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.

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 traffic cameras generated more than $3 million a year for the city’s general fund, as well as healthy profits for Gatso USA, the Massachusetts-based company that installed and runs the cameras for the city. Gatso USA had been collecting 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.

No tickets have been issued by the I-380 camera system since April 2017, when a Polk County judge upheld an Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT) order banning all speed cameras on the state’s highways. IDOT said that 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.

While the cameras have been inactive, the city has concentrated on collecting fines from tickets that had already been issued. In September 2017, the Cedar Rapids City Council voted to send the names and Social Security numbers of people with unpaid fines to the state’s offset program. 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 debt that was reported has been paid.

Officials have not yet announced when Cedar Rapids will start using the cameras to issue tickets again.

In its decision on Friday, the Supreme 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 GATSO’s database 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.

There was one issue on which the court did not reach a decision. Plaintiffs claimed Cedar Rapids’ practice of allowing GATSO to calibrate the speed cameras, instead of having a public safety official do it, was illegal. The justices split 3-3 on the issue, so a lower court ruling in favor of Cedar Rapids was allowed to stand.

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  1. “While we respectfully acknowledge these concerns, this case involves traffic citations with small fines, not the pumping of a resisting person’s stomach.”

    I like this guy…

  2. My issue with this is the fact that the money is collected by an Arizona-based company that bills itself as “a leading provider of technology-enabled business and service solutions for Road Safety Camera operations.” What they don’t tell the public is that one-third of the company is owned by Goldman Sachs, or that they keep up to 86 percent of the profit on their traffic cams. ATS is getting rich while the municipalities they supply are barely breaking even after expenses.

    If they take a photo of you, they send you a bill. And they get to take a piece out of it. If you don’t pay, they send it to collections and get pennies on the dollar. Yes, it’s good to not speed, and the natural assumption is that if you don’t speed you won’t get a ticket. But there’s no way to guarantee that. These cameras could ticket every driver who passes within a certain time frame and there would be no recourse whatever aside to pay. They are 55 dollar tickets that double after thirty days, the catch being that you often receive the so-called citation in week three.

    This is a scam, plain and simple.

    1. if it’s a scam, it’s one that reduces speed on I-380 considerably. And you have to hit 68 in a 55 to generate a violation.

      1. It’s still a scam…plus speed doesn’t always mean danger. Driving 70 at 5 am on an empty highway seems pretty safe. What about people driving too slow in the left lane, clogging up traffic. Should cameras issue a ticket for driving too slow?

        1. The cameras slow the traffic within those designated camera area of coverage. What people dont realize people are speeding after the designated camera areas to make up for lost time. Even going considerably faster than what they would be going if cameras weren’t there. How do we justify slowing traffic down in one areas to go faster in other.

  3. A problem I have experienced with the speed cameras is once the ticket is issued the local papers print a list of name(s) of the vehicle owners and the way it is stated in this listing, it directly accuses the registered vehicle owner as the ‘offender’ of the infraction. This almost cost me a job that involves driving when I had to ‘prove’ a family member was in fact driving my personal vehicle that incurred the infraction and had already been forwarded the bill (by myself) to be paid… etc. Stating this here is to point out this “printed list” accusing the vehicle owner as the offender is in fact a violation of the vehicle owner as they are wrongly accused as was in my situation. Maybe the owner of the vehicle is usually the driver, but that is not always the case. To point out the obvious, once it is in the paper, right or wrong, it becomes more factual than not by the reader. A resolve to this would be “the List” printed in the paper (or anywhere) (if they feel they need to continue to do such, which I completely DO NOT agree with) should simply state the “registered owner” of the vehicle and NOT list them as the offender of the infraction. Maybe minimal to some, but to be wrongly accused by any means should be something our local cities and any contractor(s) they hire should be avoided and corrected.

  4. Good. If you’re not speeding you have nothing to worry about. I don’t speed and the cars around me sometimes pass me like I’m standing still. TICKET THEM.

  5. I like the cameras and privatization seems to be the only model available in the United States for their implementation. They work, I used to work in the traffic engineering field and I’ve seen the data for both speed cameras and TLCs (for which early implementation might see a blip rise in rear-end collisions but T-bone crashes drop dramatically–the crashes that are most dangerous and injurious).

    Driving is a public act and a potentially dangerous one and while concerns about what happens with the data gathered in such surveillance could be an issue no one seems to be bringing up those concerns in this case.

    The government of British Columbia runs the camera system in that province through the province-run agency that writes all car insurance (ICBC) so that takes the profit motive out of the enforcement. But the ICBC can raise your car insurance rates when you get citations. Camera fines in CR are civil and won’t affect your driving record or your insurance rates. You’ll get dinged on your credit score if you fail to pay.

    1. Speed Camera violations maybe reported to a credit reporting agency, but are not permitted to appear on an individual’s credit report. Generally speaking, an individual can not take a credit “hit” on a contract they have not entered of their on volition. As traffic cameras violations are a single party contracts in which “offenders” have not voluntarily entered the contractional agreement they cannot be used against an a crediting report.

      The only redress the city has is to submit the civil fines to the state offset board for recoup via an individuals state tax returns. You cannot be arrested, nor will your driving record, or credit be affected by the cameras. Leaving little incentive for one to pay the civil “fines.”

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