Sign the petition and help stop the red light cameras
Sunday, February 17, 2013
Beth Cody, Writers’ Group member
Iowa City Press-Citizen

The Iowa City Council recently voted to allow installation of automated red-light cameras, but many residents have misgivings about this, and a local group has filed an initiative to prohibit traffic surveillance technology unless used by a police officer issuing tickets in person.

The City Council wants the money from automatic fines issued by red-light cameras, but this technology is wrong for numerous reasons:

1. The supposed safety benefits of cameras are questionable. Nationwide studies actually show camera installations cause an increase in rear-end collisions as people slam on their brakes at the last moment, and fail to prevent more deadly “T-bone” collisions, which are caused by drivers so inattentive that cameras are no deterrent.

2. Longer yellow lights prevent far more accidents than cameras (although they do not give the Council more money). But the trend among cities installing cameras is to shorten yellow lights, raising more money and endangering drivers – which reveals the true purpose of the cameras.

3. Automated traffic citations disproportionately penalize low-income drivers. Iowa City residents should shun this highly regressive municipal taxation.

4. The ACLU has serious civil liberties concerns about traffic cameras: The delay of weeks between an incident and receiving the mailed citation means that drivers may not even remember the incident, curtailing their ability to challenge the ticket. Also, license-plate numbers can be misidentified or another driver could have been driving the owner’s car – but the burden of proof of innocence is placed on the owner, subverting the presumption of “innocent until proven guilty.”

5. Privacy concerns: Red light cameras, EPA drones that now hover over Iowa’s farmers – government is slowly eroding our right to privacy. Do we really want to live in a “1984” world of surveillance by Big Brother?

6. The cameras enrich corporations that provide and operate them, the kind of “monstrous hybrid” public-private entity that urban sociologist Jane Jacobs warned us of.

7. What happens to the data stored by these corporations? Inevitable “mission creep” will eventually tempt government to use it for purposes other than those originally authorized.

8. Cameras generate ill will toward the city by visitors. Several years ago, my husband and I were driving to St. Louis and inadvertently ran a red light in Hannibal, MO (behind a semi truck and couldn’t see the light until we were under it). The next month we received a ticket for $130 in the mail. I am still so angry that instead of taking my children there to learn about Mark Twain as planned, I have sworn I will never spend another dime in that town, have made it my mission in life to tell everyone what a sorry dump of a place is “Cannibal,” and we now use back roads to avoid it on our twice-annual trips to St. Louis.

Is this long-smoldering wrath what we wish to inspire in visitors to Iowa City? Our local merchants and the University won’t thank the Council for this impoverishing, short-sighted policy.

9. Cameras are a blatant money grab by the City Council. Instead of requiring city leaders to make wise use of the money they’ve already taken, cameras allow what AAA calls “a shakedown” of citizens, enabling the Council to spend even more without prioritizing.

10. Our local citizens aren’t alone in saying “no” to surveillance technology; many cities and states are now banning cameras and drones. Just because technology exists, doesn’t mean we have to use it.

If you believe that Iowa City should “Just Say No” to this regressive, constitutionally-questionable, privacy-eroding, corporation-enriching, citizen-impoverishing, driver-endangering technology, visit the website and pledge your signature. The group needs 2,500 signatures by April 1.

The City Council, eyes clouded by desire for our money, has lost sight of what is acceptable to a free people. When this happens, it’s up to citizens to set them straight.