Red light cameras scam drivers

By Editorial Board

Chicago’s red light camera program is under fire once again after Joseph Ferguson, the city’s inspector general, released a report on Oct. 8 revealing the city’s red light camera program was riddled with mismanagement, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration implementing a shorter yellow light standard in February to generate more ticket revenue from drivers.

Ferguson conducted the report at the request of Emanuel and the City Council, finding that the Chicago Department of Transportation did not manage the program adequately during the nine years Redflex Traffic Systems operated the cameras before being terminated in 2012. Redflex was fired after the Chicago Tribune uncovered more than $2 million in bribery dealings among top Redflex executives and a city official to ensure that the company won the Chicago contractual bid in 2003. The report also found that the city instructed the new camera operator, Xerox, to accept red light camera violations with yellow light intervals greater than 2.9 seconds this spring, violating federal regulations that require a yellow change interval must occur for a minimum of 3 seconds before issuing a ticket. The Chicago Tribune reports the change resulted in a spike of tickets this summer, generating $7.7 million in ticket revenue.

The report reveals additional evidence for frustrated Chicago drivers and politicians that the red light camera program is more of a ploy by the city government to generate revenue than an effective deterrent from speeding.

A string of articles from Chicago’s news organizations reported a spike in tickets this summer. The Chicago Tribune investigated red light cameras at 12 of the busiest intersections in the city for 10 months and found questionable spikes in tickets in some areas, including a camera near the United Center that went from issuing one ticket a day to 56 per day over a two-week period before suddenly going back to normal. The findings imply human tinkering or malfunctions by the camera, which suggest poor management by city officials because the cameras should be closely monitored in order to ensure consistency in enforcement and improvements in driver behavior, according to a July 18 Chicago Tribune report.

Since Ferguson’s report showed that Emanuel’s administration ordered tinkering of some cameras that resulted in the spikes, the mayor told Chicago Tribune’s Editorial Board he readjusted the yellow light standard back to the required 3 seconds, according to the Oct. 10 article. Emanuel is also being pressured to refund the 77,000 tickets that were unfairly issued, according to an Oct. 16 Chicago Tribune report.

The $100 tickets generate more than $65 million in annual revenue for the city, according to a July 23 Chicago Sun-Times report. For a city that struggles with a $14 billion deficit, the red light camera program is obviously an added revenue stream. However, tinkering with the cameras to issue more tickets brings into question the purpose of the cameras.

There is a an abundance of studies analyzing whether red light cameras decrease crashes, but they provide contradictory results. The disjointed evidence has encouraged some states to outlaw red light cameras altogether. Seven states ban the use of red light cameras, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Also, state and city use of red light cameras has declined 6 percent since 2012, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Despite this trend, Chicago touts the largest program.

Considering the questionable efficiency of the cameras and the dishonest enforcement by the city, Chicago should abolish or seriously reform the program. In light of recent mishandlings, the program has lost all trust from citizens. There are better ways to improve red light running—such as elongating yellow light intervals to six seconds—than using cameras, which seems to be a scheme.