The Policy Shop: Are Chicago’s speed cams a money-making scam?

The Policy Shop: Are Chicago’s speed cams a money-making scam?

This week’s Policy Shop is by Illinois Policy Institute writer Patrick Andriesen.

Burdens for Chicagoans: increased. The speed cameras issued over three times more tickets in 2022 than before the pandemic in 2019. Last year the city issued more than 2.5 million speed-camera tickets, which generated $84.5 million in revenue. That’s more than two citations per household. The 21 most lucrative of these cameras each raised over $1 million for the city in tickets. Five of those speed cameras issued over $2 million in fines to motorists, while the highest revenue-generating camera around Horner Park sent out more than $4.14 million in tickets to drivers.

Collisions: increased. Vehicle collisions in school zones nearly tripled from just 23 in 2021 to 67 last year, according to original analysis of Freedom of Information Act data by the Illinois Policy Institute.

Injuries: increased. There were 18 injuries resulting from school zone crashes in 2022, over four times more than were reported in 2021.

Fatalities: increased. Fatal and incapacitating collisions increased around 34 camera sites after the safety measures were introduced. A FOIA request of the Chicago Department of Transportation shows only six of these ineffective cameras have been decommissioned or moved by city leaders since the study was released. In fact, four of these safety-reducing speed cameras collected over $1 million for the city in fines during 2022. The most lucrative camera issued nearly $2.22 million in tickets near Ashmore Park in the Forest Glen community area before finally being decommissioned in August.

South Side suffering. Not only is Lightfoot’s program proving ineffective and harmful, it is disproportionately affecting Chicago’s Black and Latino communities. The speed-camera fines hit low-income communities the hardest. Out of the city’s 21 most lucrative speed cameras, 38% were located on Chicago’s South Side. That includes two cameras that issued over $2 million in fines to motorists. City data shows 1-in-5 tickets issued last year incurred a late fee, more than doubling the cost of the ticket.

Now that Lightfoot is leaving office, her cash-cow speed camera system should go with her. Under her policy, anyone caught speeding 6 mph over the limit received a $35 dollar ticket. Anyone speeding 11 mph over the limit received a $100 ticket. But the program has proven unsuccessful and harmful; Chicago leadership can do better for its citizens.

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