Lawsuit claims Chicago distracted driving tickets invalid
Distracted driving citations dropped by 99 percent after a 2015 Chicago ordinance was passed to comply with state law.
A lawsuit filed Aug. 1 seeks reimbursement of all distracted driving citation fees issued in the city of Chicago from 2010-2015.
Attorneys Myron Cherry and Jacie Zolna allege the city violated the law by hoarding its ticket revenues rather than sharing them with the county and state, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
The attorneys claim the law required Chicago to send citation recipients to state traffic court, which the city failed to do.
In May, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson told the Chicago Sun-Times that the city’s law originally did not require drivers and officers to go to traffic court. Instead, the distracted driving tickets were treated as administrative offenses, the same category that covers parking tickets.
According to Johnson, appearing in state traffic court was not mandatory until Chicago passed an ordinance to comply with a 2015 change in state law, which required distracted driving tickets to be issued as moving traffic violations, which mandate a traffic court appearance.
After this 2015 change in state law, citations for distracted driving dropped by 99 percent. 45,594 distracted driving tickets were issued in 2014, 25,884 were issued in 2015, and only 186 distracted driving tickets were issued in 2016.
Cherry and Zolna argue that classifying the distracted driving violations as administrative violations allowed the city to keep the revenues rather than sharing them with the state and county.
Chicago is no stranger to the profitability of issuing traffic tickets.
This distracted driving lawsuit follows a recent legal settlement in which Chicago refunded nearly $39 million to drivers who were illegally issued red-light tickets. In that case, the motorists alleged the city did not follow proper notice procedures and assessed fines and late fees against drivers prematurely. Cherry and Zolna represented the drivers in asserting their red light camera claims against the city.
Prior to the red light ticket notice lawsuit against Chicago, the Chicago Tribune revealed in a 2014 report a widespread problem with yellow traffic lights glowing for fewer than the minimum requirement of three seconds. This resulted in many drivers receiving notices of violations when they should not have – a “big problem,” according to an administrative law judge. Hundreds of tickets have been tossed due to this error.
Not only has Chicago improperly fined drivers for red light violations, but the red light cameras themselves also have not been proven to increase public safety.
In just the last two years, Chicago residents have faced massive property tax hikes, a state income tax hike, a local sales tax increase and new excise taxes on soda. Motorists in the city must now wonder whether distracted driving tickets have been merely one more justification for a cash grab.