Chicago’s traffic cameras to ticket drivers going 6 mph over speed limit

Chicago’s traffic cameras to ticket drivers going 6 mph over speed limit

The proposal comes a year after mayor pledged to provide relief to residents from regressive fees. She said the move is about safety, but Chicago is seeking cash.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot wants to start ticketing drivers caught on speed cameras driving 6 mph over the speed limit as a safety measure, but she also presented it as part of closing a $1.2 billion budget gap.

The move runs counter to her campaign pledge to end the city’s addiction to fines and fees that fall heaviest on the city’s low-income residents.

Lightfoot said speeding is “clearly a public safety issue” and stricter speed enforcement was necessary to keep motorists and pedestrians safe. She said “exponentially” more “speed-related accidents and deaths” in 2020 was the justification for the new ticket standard, which would start with a warning followed by a $35 ticket for a repeat offense.

A review of traffic data shows Lightfoot’s assessment of speeding is off.

According to the Chicago Tribune, total crashes are actually down by almost 20,000 in the first nine months of 2020 compared to the same period of 2019. There have been 28 more deaths on the road this year, but it’s not clear to what degree speed was a factor. A Tribune analysis of the data found one more death this year related to speed or reckless driving than in the same period of 2019.

That is hardly the exponential growth Lightfoot described.

Chicago currently imposes a $35 speeding ticket on drivers caught by cameras for going 10 mph over the speed limit. Drivers caught going 11 mph or higher pay a $100 ticket. Five unpaid tickets from a traffic camera can get a driver’s license suspended.

“If this policy change was about safety, it would ensure that enforcement mechanisms for speed camera tickets came down the hardest on people who commit the most offenses, not those who can’t pay,” said Mari Castaldi of the Chicago Jobs Council.

The reality is more fines from speed cameras will come down hardest on low-income drivers. If they can’t pay the tickets, they may lose their licenses and be unable to get to work.

Lightfoot initially promised to reform fines and penalties in the city because she said they focused on getting revenue and not on making the community safer. She appears to be abandoning that promise, with her latest budget proposal bringing in $38 million more than the projection for 2020.

The city took heat during the summer when 35,000 parking tickets were issued despite Lightfoot’s promise that she would give people a break while many were out of work thanks to the COVID-19 restrictions. Seventy-three of the city’s speed cameras had also been turned off to give people a break, but that may be changing soon.

Chicago has 88 speed cameras placed around parks and schools. The city also has 309 red-light cameras, which have brought in over $719 million since they were installed in 2003.

Both styles of traffic cameras seem to do more to raise revenue than increase safety on the roads. Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel was criticized for trying to make a cash grab when he brought in the speed cameras in 2013.

Red-light cameras were part of a corruption scheme in the city which saw a former city administrator convicted on 20 corruption charges. They have been at the center of a federal corruption probe and bribery schemes stretching from the Statehouse to township halls.

Despite the clear problems with the devices, the city continued to insist they were about safety. Studies have shown red-light cameras did little to improve safety at intersections and in some cases, actually made them more dangerous.

Traffic cameras have been a clear cash grab for Chicago. Rather than increasing the city’s reliance on them, Lightfoot should push harder for state lawmakers to provide the tools to fix the public pension debt driving the budget gap.

“To our partners in Springfield… yes, we still need real pension reform,” Lightfoot said during her budget address Oct. 21.

Leaning on state lawmakers to fix the core problem is the solution that leaning on the city’s low-income drivers can never be.

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