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Report: Traffic Cameras – Safety or Profit?

November 8, 2011

DES MOINES, Iowa - At least three jurisdictions in Iowa have contracted for red-light and speed cameras in their communities. Companies in the traffic-camera business, such as Gatso, say their cameras make roads safer. But a new report from the Iowa Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) urges caution. It says that sometimes such contracts put profits ahead of safety.

PIRG public interest advocate Serena Unrein says payments may be based on a percentage of fines collected or the number of tickets written.

"In the contracts, there is often a financial incentive for companies to issue more tickets and for there to be more violations, rather than fewer traffic violations."

PIRG says such contracts create a conflict of interest for cities, whose primary goal should be driver safety and protecting the public interest. And Unrein says intersections can often be made safer through traffic engineering strategies, like longer yellow lights. But she points out that some traffic camera contracts specifically forbid such actions.

"Sometimes, these contracts would actually write in that cities would be prevented from retaining control over their traffic policy decisions that might actually improve public safety."

While PIRG officials say Iowa has not seen the problems encountered in other states, they want lawmakers to put safety before profit in approving more traffic cameras on the streets.

The report is at: tinyurl.com/7nduoyu.

Dick Layman, Public News Service - IA