Chicago speed cameras ticket 3.8 million drivers since Lightfoot cut limits

Chicago speed cameras ticket 3.8 million drivers since Lightfoot cut limits

Chicago’s speed cameras issued 3.8 million tickets since Mayor Lori Lightfoot lowered the threshold before a citation is written. That is like everyone in Chicago getting 1.4 tickets in 16 months.

Chicago speed cameras have issued 3.8 million tickets since Mayor Lori Lightfoot last March started issuing $35 tickets for speeding 6-10 mph over the limit. That is like sending out 1.4 tickets to each resident, regardless of whether they can drive, in the nation’s third-largest city.

An Illinois Policy Institute investigation found this deluge of tickets has raised nearly as much revenue for the city in just 16 months as the speed cameras collected in the three years before Lightfoot’s policy went into effect.

Meanwhile, the traffic fatalities Lightfoot promised her policy would reduce were higher in the first six months of 2022 than in the first six months of any year since 2017. There were 72 traffic deaths during the first half of 2022.

Chicago aldermen are expected to vote July 20 on repealing the lower speed camera limit over concerns it is disproportionately impacting low-income residents without delivering the promised safety benefits. Creating a new $35 ticket for speeding 6-10 mph by itself brought in $79.5 million since March 1, 2021, prompting criticism Lightfoot’s policy is about money rather than safety.

Recent investigations examining the financial and safety impacts of cameras on Chicagoans show the deaths continue to climb while the city sends out over $207,000 a day in fines.

An Axios report examining the safety impacts of cameras since Lightfoot’s lowered the speed limit found traffic fatalities near camera sites soared 114% since before the policy change, and 44% in areas not under surveillance.

A corroborating report from CBS Chicago investigators found fatal collisions increased near speed cameras in the 12 months after the policy went into effect, despite ticketing rates skyrocketing eight-fold.

A UIC study commissioned by the city concluded there was “little relationship between the number of tickets issued and the safety impact of cameras.” Moreover, they found 3 in 10 cameras did not improve safety – in fact, 16 cameras were found to cause a “marked” increase in collisions.

The researchers also concluded the economic burden of camera tickets followed a stark racial pattern. Black and Latino households received a disproportionate number of tickets compared to the rest of the city.

A second report from ProPublica found Black and Latino residents historically receive speed and red-light camera tickets at about twice the rate of white residents.

These speed cameras hurt low-income Chicagoans more than higher-income drivers. The UIC report found nearly half of tickets received by low-income residents incur late fees and penalties before they are paid. That compares to just 17% for upper-income drivers.

Late penalties drive up the cost of tickets, turning a $35 citation into an $85 fine. A $100 speeding violation can cost $244 if the payment is late.

While Lightfoot campaigned for mayor on the promise of reforming Chicago’s addiction to nickel-and-diming low-income and minority residents, she recently told the Chicago Sun-Times she is confident aldermen will keep her 6-10 mph policy intact rather than create an $80-million budget hole.

She said a vote against her policy means a pre-election property tax hike on Chicagoans to make up for lost revenues, telling reporters the revenue is “now front-and-center on peoples’ minds.” Lightfoot has even threatened to veto the council’s decision to raise the limit back to 10 mph, if it passes.

What should be “front-and-center” on the minds of Chicago’s elected leaders is the city’s $46 billion in perpetually growing pension debt. Getting state lawmakers to back a constitutional amendment allowing the state, Chicago and the rest of Illinois’ nearly 9,000 government units to control the future growth of pensions would be far more effective in curbing budget deficits than nickel-and-diming residents.

Before the city council votes on repealing Lightfoot’s lower speed camera limit July 20, Chicagoans can use Illinois Policy’s Take Action tool to tell their alderman how they feel about the cash cams.

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