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State law could ban red-light cameras

by Jordan Graham
Feb 18, 2010

Red-light camera facts

Chicago’s red-light cameras are activated by a sensor which sits underneath the pavement just before the white line at an intersection.  The sensor is triggered only by cars that pass this line during a red light. 

Vehicles must come to a complete stop before making a turn at a red light.  A rolling stop will activate the camera.

The City of Chicago follows federal guidelines on the timing of yellow lights.  Chicago Department of Transportation representative Brian Steele said yellow lights should provide ample time to stop safely if motorists are paying attention and driving the speed limit.

All citations issued by red-light cameras are subject to a two-step review before being mailed out. Ticket recipients can see photographs and a 12-second video clip of the alleged infraction at the Chicago Department of Revenue Web site.

Motorists can appeal citations.  Acceptable arguments include the following: the car has a different owner, was stolen, was avoiding an emergency vehicle or taking part in a funeral possession. Some other mitigating circumstances may apply.  Steele said less than 1 percent of appeals are successful.

The Illinois State Senate created a subcommittee Tuesday to study a bill that would rid Illinois of red-light cameras 

The bill, proposed by Sen. Dan Duffy (R-Lake Barrington) has 17 sponsors and could move to the Senate floor within the next two weeks. 

Duffy filed the bill last October, saying he thought red-light cameras were little more than cash machines for government programs. 

“Illinois citizens are very upset with the intrusive nature of the red light cameras and are contacting their representatives in Springfield,” Duffy said in a press release posted on his Web site. “The voters understand that the cameras raise lots of revenue for the government to spend while improvement in safety is questionable.” 

In 2009, red-light cameras generated $58.9 million in revenue for Chicago. Currently the city has 186 of the  cameras. 

About three dozen protesters gathered near a red-light camera at Addison Street and Western Avenue Sunday, joining a nationwide rally against the automated ticketing machines.  Some held signs reading, “Red-light cameras: the most profitable safety program in existence.”  Others said they thought the cameras made intersections unsafe. 

Brian Steele, a representative for the Chicago Department of Transportation, said revenue is not the primary aim. 

“The number one goal of this program is safety,” Steele said.  “We are promoting safety through the awareness of this program.  So many Chicagoans are now aware…and because of that, so many people are doing what they’re taught in driver’s education.” 

Steele cited a Chicago Department of Transportation analysis done in 2008 that equated red-light cameras with safer intersections. 

Intersections with cameras installed in early 2006 saw a 30 percent overall reduction in accidents, Steele said. There also was a 40 percent reduction in broadside crashes, which are often related to vehicles running red lights. 

Steele admits that some intersections have not seen a drop in accidents, and others have even experienced an increase. But he maintains that the overall trends show the cameras are beneficial. 

“Fewer people running red lights means fewer potential accidents, injuries and fatalities,” Steele said. “By that measure alone, the program is a success.” 

Another bill scheduled to be discussed by the same subcommittee would mandate that red-light cameras have a distinctive color to make them visible to traffic. It would also require a police officer to review all camera-issued tickets and order that signs to be posted at camera-monitored intersection reminding drivers to make a complete stop before a right turns on red.