Fact Checker: Has Cedar Rapids Reduced Accidents Using Traffic Cameras?

Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman speaks to reporters on Oct. 4, 2021. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Cedar Rapids is once again battling attempts by Iowa lawmakers to regulate or ban automated traffic control camera systems — devices that local law enforcement officials say promote security, while critics say they are money-making constitutional violations.

During a January legislative hearing on Senate Docket 2061, which would bar cities or other entities from using the devices if they were installed or operated by an out-of-state company, KWWL reported that the Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman testified: “Deploying automated traffic control cameras, we’ve reduced the number of speed-related collisions — collisions that result in injury and collisions that result in death.” . The city contracts with Massachusetts-based Sensys Gatso for its traffic cameras.

Although Jerman is not an elected official, he was testifying about the program in front of elected officials who could decide the fate of the automated traffic cameras. This bill was rejected by the committee but did not encounter legislative obstacles to proceed further. Another proposal that would ban cameras, Senate File 2319, was dropped from the agenda for debate in the Senate this week.

Speed ​​cameras equipped with speed cameras are attached to a sign post as traffic moves along Interstate 380 northbound near the Diagonal Dr. SW exit in Cedar Rapids. Cameras record speeding and issue a ticket for the violation. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Analysis

Let’s look at the data showing how Cedar Rapids’ automated traffic control cameras reduced collisions.

The Cedar Rapids system became operational in 2010 but was shut down for a time in April 2017, after the Iowa Department of Transportation said in 2015 that some cameras on or near Iowa highways were to closed because they forced motorists to drive dangerously slowly.

The cameras remained in use until the Polk County District Court in 2017 ruled that the Iowa DOT had jurisdiction over the devices. In 2018, the Iowa Supreme Court eventually overturned that decision and found that the Iowa DOT lacked the authority to regulate cameras.

Cedar Rapids reactivated the devices in July 2019. The cameras were also out of service for a while after the August 10, 2020 derecho.

In fiscal 2021, which ended June 30, 2021, Cedar Rapids reports that it took in more than $8 million from issuing quotes through its automated camera system.

Before the cameras were reactivated in 2019, according to the city, there was a 43.2% chance that a crash would result in an injury. This probability dropped to 22.6% after activation.

City data shows that overall crashes and injury collisions on Interstate 380 have decreased due to the use of the cameras, which are located at both ends of the freeway’s S-curve at through the city center. The average number of accidents with injuries per month fell from 1.81 to 0.9, a decrease of 50.3%. The average number of accidents per month fell by 26.2%, from 4.58 to 3.38.

The city also compared six street intersections with and six without traffic cameras to show that those with the devices see fewer collisions overall, and fewer injuries and property damage.

Intersections with cameras saw a total of 17 crashes resulting in injury and 36 causing property damage. Much of that was caused by collisions on the northbound Center Point Road, which saw seven crashes causing injury and 14 crashes damaging property. Edgewood Road and 42nd Street NE as well as Williams Boulevard and 16th Avenue SW each saw a single injury-causing crash out of 16 crashes combined.

Meanwhile, the six intersections without cameras had more than one collision resulting in injury, for a total of 21. Another 90 suffered property damage.

It should be noted that this is a limited sample, as it does not include data from the same intersections before the cameras were installed.

Fatal accidents also fell with the use of cameras. The city had seven fatal crashes without the devices from 2003 to 2009, while there was only one with the cameras in place from 2010 to 2017. No fatalities were recorded from July 2019 to December 2020 and one death in 2021.

Conclusion

Jerman is correct that with traffic cameras, Cedar Rapids has seen fewer collisions, and that includes crashes resulting in death and injury. It’s possible that some of the reduced collisions were caused by factors unrelated to traffic cameras, such as fewer motorists driving in 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but he’s right about the general trend to reduction in accidents. We give Jerman an A.

Criteria

The Fact Checker team verifies statements made by an Iowa political candidate/leader or national candidate/leader about Iowa, or in advertisements that appear in our marketplace.

Claims must be independently verifiable. We assign statements grades from A to F based on accuracy and context.

If you spot a claim that you think needs checking, email us at factchecker@thegazette.com.

The members of the Fact Checker team are Elijah Decious, Erin Jordan, Marissa Payne and Michaela Ramm. This fact checker was researched and written by Marissa Payne.

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