Chicago speed cameras fined motorists over $102M in 2023

Chicago speed cameras fined motorists over $102M in 2023

Chicago speed cameras hit motorists with over $102 million in fines during 2023, and $879 million total since they started flashing a decade ago. The mayor promised to eliminate the automated traffic cams, which issued a ticket every 20 seconds last year.

Chicago speed cameras generated over $102 million from fining drivers in 2023, slapping a motorist with a speeding ticket every 20 seconds.

One of them was Ingrid Walker, 64, of Evanston, who received two speed camera tickets and incurred a late fee on one. She is disabled and said the tickets and fee would have cost her more than 10% of her fixed income of about $800 a month.

“The speeding tickets I got were at Western and Devon. I got one when I was coming back from the pharmacist to pick up compounded medication. The people in front of me were slowing down to talk to each other on the road,” Walker said. “It seemed like a dangerous situation, so I tried to speed up to get around them.”

“I vaguely remember a flash near the intersection and weeks later, I got a speeding ticket in the mail. It was a $35 ticket. By the time I was able to contact the city to pay them, the fines had doubled, and I learned I had received a second $35 ticket at the intersection.”

The bulk fine collections included late fees last year. Speed cameras collected $46.9 million from fines paid on time and an additional $55.4 million from speeding tickets that included a late fee – more than doubling the cost of those tickets.

Late penalties can turn a $35 citation into an $85 fine. A $100 speeding violation can cost the driver $244 if the payment is late.

“I’ve never received a speeding ticket before,” Walker said. “I’ve done limousine driving, I used to do car transport driving. I’m a very conscientious driver. So, it surprised me that I got it when I was trying to be safe.”

The fines made for a very difficult month and Walker missed out on some necessities.

“It felt more like a punch in the face than a slap on the hand,” she said.

Since they were turned on in 2013, Chicago’s speed cameras have generated $879 million for the city, sending 9,132,409 tickets to motorists. That’s more than three tickets per Chicagoan or almost a ticket for three of every four Illinois residents.

The volume exploded starting in 2021, with 5,349,626 tickets issued in the three years after former Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot lowered the speeding threshold to ticket drivers going 6-10 mph over the limit.

Speed camera revenue dropped in 2023 by about $30 million from 2022, despite 11 more cameras operating.

Top cameras

Among the 169 speed cameras active last year, 17 issued over $1 million in tickets and five issued over $2 million in tickets – before late fees were added. Three of the five $2 million cameras were located on the South Side.

The No. 1 camera generated more than $2.5 million in fines. It was at 901 N. Clark St. near Washington Square Park in the Near North Side community.

Chicagoans on the city’s North Side bore the brunt of the tickets last year, receiving 44% of all tickets issued citywide in 2023. Motorists on the West Side received the second most speeding tickets at 26%.

“I don’t believe our city leaders really understand what low-income people deal with and all the disadvantages working against us,” Walker said. “A ticket like this is the same as just going to Starbucks every day for a week for them. A ticket would be like five coffees.”

“But I can’t afford Starbucks every day. I can’t have those luxuries. I’m trying to keep my apartment and my basic needs met. And I feel like we’re being victimized a little,” Walker said.

Improving safety?

Are the cameras making the streets safer? A decade-long city study of collisions around Chicago speed cameras shows total crashes declined by 2% between 2012 and 2022 compared to a 27% increase in collisions citywide during that time.

The count of speed-related crashes around cameras dropped by 16% while the city recorded a 22% increase in speeding collisions. Bicycle and pedestrian crashes also fell by 44% around camera sites, mirroring the citywide decrease in pedestrian collisions reported during the decade.

The Chicago collision study indicates speed cameras reduced total crashes around 53% of camera sites. But whether those cameras were changing driving habits and increasing collisions outside of designated camera sites was not addressed.

A 2017 speed camera study in Great Britain found safety was highly localized around intersections with speed cameras. The problem was the number of collisions away from monitored zones increased as drivers abruptly slowed down to avoid fines, then quickly sped up after passing the surveilled intersections.

An Arizona study found no effect on collisions from the cameras.

And University of Illinois-Chicago research also concluded there was “little relationship between the number of tickets issued and the safety impact of cameras.”

Lightfoot’s policies

Lightfoot campaigned on a promise to reduce the city’s overreliance on taking fines and fees from low-income residents.

But after becoming mayor, she lowered the speeding threshold for cameras in March 2021 to fine drivers $35 for traveling 6-10 mph over the speed limit.

Nearly seven months later, Lightfoot created the Clear Path Relief program to help low-income Chicagoans pay off their late traffic fines. A study in 2018 of the city’s vehicle tickets showed they were hitting poor and minority communities 40% harder, leading to a debt spiral that landed many in bankruptcy.

Lightfoot’s program cut fines in half for Chicagoans making less than $38,640 a year and extended the repayment period on existing debt. People aren’t using it, though, with only 0.4% of tickets forgiven through the program.

“I supported Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to implement a ticketing program compensatory to your income in Chicago,” Walker said. “I thought the city was trying to make sure they’re not putting somebody out of their home because of a ticket.”

“But when I called the city for help because the late fees would make it difficult for me to pay my rent that month, nobody seemed to know about it. I eventually got help and they waived the late fees after I paid the base fines, but it was scary.”

Johnson’s plan?

Lightfoot’s successor, Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson, pledged to phase out speed cameras during his final televised debate against challenger Paul Vallas.

But Johnson’s 2024 Chicago budget counts on residents paying $348 million in fines and fees from parking tickets, speeding and red-light camera tickets, booting fees and other vehicle infractions to remain balanced – $46 million more than was budgeted for 2023.

Whether Johnson himself will be paying these fines remains to be seen after his motorcade racked up $1,640 worth of traffic citations. Eight of Johnson’s tickets were from speed cameras.

A spokesman in Johnson’s office declined a request for comment on whether he plans to phase out Chicago speed cameras – and give up over $100 million a year – as promised during the campaign.

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