Avoiding Red Light Camera Tickets: Know Your Enemy
To my mind, the best way to not get a red light camera ticket is…to not blow through a red light.
The easiest and best way to do this is be more careful at intersections, slow down to a stop on the yellow, don’t try to beat the light, etc. This is the most obvious way to not get ticketed. But I have a few more suggestions to further insure you never receive those $100 red light camera tickets.
First, know where the red light intersections are located. Watch out for them in the towns, areas and neighborhoods you drive. Memorize them. Make note of them.
Here’s the current, most up-to-date list of red light cameras in Chicago.
Second, learn to watch out for the “Photo-Enforced” signs and for the cameras themselves in neighborhoods you only drive infrequently.
Third, assume ALL intersections have red light cameras. That way, you will always drive more carefully and be more watchful at traffic lights.
The rules of the red light camera
Finally, you need to know about how the cameras work so you interact with them correctly. In other words, “know your enemy.”
The other day, I spent time learning the details of red light cameras with Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) spokesperson Brian Steele. Back in 2003, CDOT originated the red light camera program and Mr. Steele was intimately involved with the program. These days, Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management handles the red light camera program. So, Mr. Steele knows quite a bit about how these damn cameras work.
Steele explained that red light cameras are not running continuously. They are triggered by an under pavement sensor, located at the white stop bar markings, before the entrance of the intersection. This sensor only becomes active when the traffic light turns red. NOT yellow, but full on red.
So, if you are already within the intersection when the light changes from yellow to red, you are safe–no ticket.
The red light camera does not trigger if you are already within the intersection when the light turns red.
Even if just your front wheels are past the white stop bar on the pavement, you are still safe as you are technically within the intersection, and can proceed to clear the intersection without being ticketed.
The under pavement sensor will only activate AFTER the light turns red.
This means, make sure you get your butt into the intersection while the light is either green or still yellow. Even if it’s just the very front of the car.
Or…stop at the entrance to the intersection BEFORE the light turns red.
“There is no gray area here,” according to Steele. “When you cross the stop bar (on the pavement) after the light turns red, the camera is triggered.”
Three seconds…only three seconds?
It’s important that you realize that the yellow light on all Chicago traffic lights have only a 3 second duration. Seriously, according to both Steele at CDOT and OEM, it’s only 3 seconds. This is not a long time. Think about that and drive accordingly.
Right on red
Steele also warned to be careful when making a right on red. He says many people get red light tickets and think the tickets are erroneous because they didn’t actually go through the intersection, but turned right on red. But according to Steele many people fail to actually stop first before turning right on the red. “As you know, Illinois law requires you to make a complete stop before turning right on red,” emphasized Steele.
So make sure you come to a complete stop before turning right on red, or you’ll get a red light camera ticket in the mail.
I fought the law…but the law won
Based on the details of the system and understanding how the red light cameras work, it’s not surprising that very few people ever beat a red light camera ticket. In most cases, when you get that letter with the bright red heading, you are guilty.
Fighting these tickets is nearly impossible. The video and photographic evidence is nealy impeachable. In addition, the success rate at red light camera hearings is not quite 2%. As opposed to 50-70% for regular parking tickets.
“Over the two years I was involved with the program, I only saw 4-5 errors during that time,” says Steele. “And it wasn’t a system malfunction but human error.”
That’s 4-5 errors out of tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of tickets that were issued. That’s pretty amazing.
Part of this success rate is because every instance that a red light camera is triggered, a human being reviews the incident and will only issue a ticket, when, according to Steele, “there is incontrovertible proof that a vehicle has gone through the intersection on a red light.”
We will get into details on how to contest red light camera citations and the few and only defenses that work in beating red light camera tickets in the future.
Special thanks to CDOT’s very kind Brian Steele who allowed me to waste nearly 45 minutes of his valuable time last week in researching this piece.
NEXT WEEK: Do license sprays protect you from red light camera tickets?