Illinois moves to ban red-light cameras statewide

Hilary Gowins

VP of comms @illinoispolicy. Likes dogs and basketball.

Hilary Gowins
April 23, 2015

Illinois moves to ban red-light cameras statewide

Ideally, the state wouldn’t have to get involved, and local governments would act in the best interests of taxpayers. But the latter isn’t happening.

Traffic safety rules should stick to one simple principle: ensuring driver and pedestrian safety. But red-light camera systems make it easy to forget about intent in lieu of looking forward to healthy ticket revenues.

Chicago officials implemented the city’s infamous red-light camera program with no research supporting it. Even now, with no proof that the program is increasing driver safety, Mayor Rahm Emanuel won’t end the program, which has generated more than $500 million in revenue since 2003 from $100 tickets, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Springfield has taken notice. Illinois state Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, has introduced House Bill 173 seeking to prevent non-home-rule communities in Illinois from creating red-light camera programs after Jan. 1, 2017. The bill passed the House 79-26 on April 22.

Ideally, the state wouldn’t have to get involved, and local governments would act in the best interests of taxpayers. But the latter isn’t happening. By law, local governments are required to capture safety data, but not all comply (see, for example, this 2013 report on Chicago’s program from the city’s Office of the Inspector General). Naperville, however, did report its safety data – which led the city to realize its program was not justified.

Overall, there’s no definitive evidence that red-light cameras make roads safer.

For example, the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University prepared a study for the U.S. Department of Transportation in 2004 that reviewed 303 intersections over a 57-month period.

Researchers said the results of their study “do not support the view that red light cameras reduce crashes. Instead, we find that RLCs are associated with higher levels of many types and severity categories of crashes.”

In August 2014, a Chicago judge revealed that he’s been overturning a vast majority of red-light camera tickets brought before him. Administrative Law Judge Robert A. Sussman said that many red-light camera tickets were issued because of yellow lights that lasted less than three seconds, which is the legally required minimum.

Aside from the question of red-light cameras’ effectiveness in general, the real problem is government officials signing corrupt deals. In 2014, the Federal Bureau of Investigation revealed that a city transportation official and the ex-CEO of Redflex Traffic Systems Inc., the city’s former vendor, were indicted on conspiracy charges related to a $2 million federal bribery investigation.

Elected officials shouldn’t be able to pass crony deals behind closed doors, especially when those deals put in place expensive programs that turn taxpayers and drivers into cash cows.

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