In a somewhat unusual move, the Iowa Supreme Court has accepted a case involving a traffic violation and a $75 fine. While this seems like a far cry from the often momentous issues that the highest court of the state typically deals with, it raises questions that may be more important than appears from the fine at stake.
The case involves a woman who was ticketed for speeding. A camera ticketed her for doing 68 mph in a 55 zone. She claims that she was not speeding, as it was in February 2015 and the roads had been very icy the previous day and still were problematic enough for her to drive with extra caution. She stated in her brief that she was traveling between 50 and 55 mph.
Traffic cameras are supposed to promote public safety by encouraging drivers to slow down, but they also can be a very lucrative device. The traffic camera in question is reported to issue 90,000 tickets a year, which at $75 per ticket, would generate $6.75 million in revenue annually.
Many people will not want to go to the inconvenience of hiring an attorney and contesting the ticket, even if they believed the citation was incorrect. They would pay the ticket and move on.
The problem with this type of acceptance is that no one would ever know if the camera was miscalibrated or inaccurate for other reasons. Cedar Rapids could generate tens of thousands of dollars with bogus tickets.
Anytime a financial incentive is placed on a law enforcement practice, it diminishes the public safety value of the practice and elevates the profit generation motive. The Supreme Court of Iowa should carefully consider this case and ensure that the due process rights of the people of Iowa are not made secondary to easy ways to generate revenue.
Automated justice handed out by machines may be efficient, but it may not be justice.
Source: thegazette.com, “Iowa Supreme Court considers Cedar Rapids woman’s $75 traffic camera ticket,” B.A. Morelli, June 3, 2016