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South Dakota To Drivers: Ignore Those Pesky Iowa Speeding Cameras

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Police in Sioux City, Iowa, use photo enforcement to catch traffic violations. An automatic camera takes a photo of a violator's license plate, then police find the registered owner and send out a ticket. South Dakota legislators have passed a law that will not allow their state's Department of Transportation to release vehicle information for this purpose. South Dakota Public Broadcasting's Gary Ellenbolt reports that the bill was co-sponsored by a state senator who has reportedly received several of these tickets. The senator claims that with photo enforcement, there's no right for a defendant to face the accuser, as guaranteed by the Constitution.


We all know that if you're driving too fast in certain areas, you may get caught by the flash of a traffic camera. That can happen on Interstate 29 through Sioux City, Iowa. But a new law in neighboring South Dakota will allow residents there to ignore that speeding ticket. South Dakota Public Broadcasting's Gary Ellenbolt reports.

GARY ELLENBOLT, BYLINE: Situated on the shoulder of Interstate 29 in Sioux City, Iowa is one of 13 cameras designed to be where human law enforcement can't. Instead of an officer with a radar gun writing out a ticket, a picture is taken and the registered owner, whether operating the vehicle or not, gets a surprise in the mail.

But the cameras are not sitting well South Dakota officials. The state legislature and South Dakota's governor supported a measure forbidding South Dakota to give Iowa information it needs to process those tickets. State Sen. Dan Lederman was a main sponsor.

STATE SENATOR DAN LEDERMAN: I believe what is being violated here is the rights of people for due process. I don't believe it's fair for the state of South Dakota to be complicit in that activity by providing driver information.

ELLENBOLT: Iowa and any other state can seek information through what are known as inlet rules. They let states cooperate with each other in criminal cases, such as arrest warrants. But Sioux City classifies these tickets as civil cases, not criminal, allowing South Dakota to deny information. Doug Young is Sioux City's police chief.

DOUG YOUNG: A picture's taken of your car, and it shows a license plate number. We have the capability of actually photographing the operator of the car. But since this is a civil fine, we choose not to do that.

ELLENBOLT: That citation letter offers a web address, so the motorist can watch a video of the infraction.

YOUNG: Let's say you review your video, and you just lent your car your best friend. And you've got dinged with the citation. Well, it's your responsibility to either pay it or to nominate that person as the operator of the car and make him responsible for paying that fine.

ELLENBOLT: More than a dozen states have banned using cameras to catch speeders. In Arkansas, for example, officers can use a photo radar gun but then have to physically give the offender a ticket at the scene of the violation.

One supporter of South Dakota's decision to not help Iowa is Jim Mehlhaff of Pierre. He was driving through Sioux City last fall when a traffic camera snapped a photo of his vehicle. A couple of weeks after his trip, he received a letter claiming he owed Sioux City $168 for the citation. Mehlhaff wasn't happy with the situation but paid the fine.

COMMISSIONER JIM MEHLHAFF: I did address it to, Sioux City extorts money from out-of-state travelers, just to be cute. They did cash the check, though.

ELLENBOLT: Police chief Doug Young accuses South Dakota politician Dan Lederman of just trying to protect his own interests.

YOUNG: I think your best bet would be to ask him straightforward, how many have you gotten, or how many has your vehicles gotten? That's the question that needs to be answered by him.

ELLENBOLT: Lederman says he drives by the traffic cameras every day.

LEDERMAN: My wife's vehicle has been photographed a couple times. And I also have a son that drives both my vehicle and my wife's vehicle. So I don't know if I was the one driving, and you don't know who's driving the vehicle.

So, yes, I have received some. But as far as it being self-serving, this is just kind of along the lines of the way it's been played out by the city of Sioux City to make this a personal issue. And it's not.

ELLENBOLT: Whether personal or not, it appears to be lucrative. Last year, Sioux City took in more than $40 million from the cameras. For his part, police chief Young offers a simple solution to not getting a ticket.

YOUNG: Don't give us a dime. That's what I'd say. We're just looking for compliance.

ELLENBOLT: As Sioux City police work to get motorists to comply with posted speed limits, their next move is to figure out how to get South Dakota to comply as well. For NPR News, I'm Gary Ellenbolt in Vermillion, South Dakota.


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