Iowa Court: Cams do not infringe on due process

Speed and traffic cameras in Cedar Rapids do not violate a constitutional right to due process, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled on Friday.

Traffic flows along the northbound lanes of Interstate 380 as workers install speed cameras on a road sign north of the H Avenue NE interchange on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2010, in northeast Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette/KCRG-TV9)

The high court upheld lower court rulings dismissing a class action lawsuit against the City of Cedar Rapids Speed Cameras. A group of drivers filed that lawsuit in 2018 claiming the cameras violate equal protection, due process and other clauses of the Iowa Constitution.

The Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling re-examined an earlier ruling dismissing all the claims except the due process argument against the cameras. In its initial ruling, the court ruled the city’s policy violated due process by automatically imposing a fine against a driver if it did not request a review.

The city pointed out that policy was not in place when the lawsuit was filed. In its new review, the court determined there is no violation of due process as the camera program does not “shock the conscious” in its implementation. The court notes the cameras are well promoted so it should not surprise drivers or give an undue invasion of privacy.

The court also dismissed arguments the cameras are more about generating revenue than safety.

“It is, of course, true that the ATE system generates revenues for Cedar Rapids,” the court’s opinion reads. “That fact alone does not invalidate the ordinance on substantive due process grounds in this case. Just as a tax on tobacco has the potential of deterring youth smoking, Cedar Rapids may rationally believe that the impositions of fines for speeding violations generally deters speeding.”

However, the court does question some of the motives and effectiveness of the camera program in its ruling.

“If promoting safety were Cedar Rapids’ real goal, why does the ordinance penalize vehicle owners and not the drivers where the deterrence function would be much greater?” the ruling asks. “The idea that vehicle owners will be more careful allowing others to drive their vehicles seems tenuous at best.”

The city started issuing citations in 2009 to the owners of vehicles found speeding or running red lights. The city turned off cameras on Interstate 380 in 2017 as it underwent legal challenges. Those challenges have since been dismissed but the city still has not resumed issuing tickets on the cameras on I-380.

Cedar Rapids police said it had a plan to restart issuing tickets and use the revenue for public safety projects like security cameras and a new school resource officer. It planned to take that proposal to the city council but that has not appeared on any public agenda yet.