Tribune Exposes Suburban Red Light Camera Scam

It’s just about improving safety.

That’s the mantra cities, towns, and villages and municipalities around the state of Illinois repeat over and over again as the pretense for installing red light cameras in their municipalities.

But according to a fantastic piece of investigative journalism by the Chicago Tribune, many suburban towns are seemingly employing red light cameras for the revenue only, with only a wink and a nod toward the safety aspect of that equation.

This revenue over “safety” concept is not really breaking news to any motorist who has been burned by a red light camera with with an expensive, usually $100, ticket.

Tribune reporters dig much deeper into the facts and numbers behind red light cameras in Illinois, than anyone previously. And the data they uncover shows, in many cases, some towns are choosing intersections more for the amount of revenue they can produce, than for the number of crashes, injuries and deaths the red light cameras were originally intended to prevent.

A Federal Highway Administration study from 2006 of red light cameras, states these devices are “most beneficial at intersections where there are relatively few rear-end crashes and many right-angle ones.”

The Tribune story points out that many suburban red light cameras are installed to catch motorists making illegal right on red turns, while not installing cameras at intersections to deter motorists from more dangerous red light running behavior.

While, of course, motorists who do not come to a complete stop before proceeding right on red, are in the wrong, very few accidents occur in when a motorist blows through a red light. If an accident occurs, it’s usually minor compared to right angle (T-bone) collisions which take place when a driver blows straight through an intersection. It’s when drivers runs a red light through an intersection, that the potential for the worst and potentially deadly crashes occur.

The Tribune’s investigation found one devastatingly embarrassing and juicy piece of information in their story:

The Tribune looked at accident records for 88 red light intersections and they determined nearly all The Tribune reviewed accident records for 88 camera-approved locations and found nearly all had many more rear-end crashes than angle crashes. At some intersections targeted for cameras, few accidents of any kind had occurred.

So, when municipalities install red light cameras to snag right on red violations, it is obviously not about safety as it is money.

Perhaps the most blatant example in the article, is an intersection in Bellwood, where one red light camera generates $60-$70,000 per month, capturing mostly non-resident drivers rolling through a red light to enter the Eisenhower Expressway.

Bellwood’s moneymaking champ of a camera at 25th and Harrison churned out its first ticket in December 2006, just six months after a new state law was signed giving the green light to red-light cameras in the suburbs.

In his municipal league talk, McCampbell said he and other Bellwood officials lobbied for the new law. He said the driving force was the deaths of four people in a July 2005 crash that involved red light running at Mannheim Road and Madison Street.

Bellwood has eight traffic cameras, but none at that intersection.

The Trib article points out at least six suburban intersections where this corrupt model of revenue over safety is being employed, including East Dundee, Schiller Park, Lombard, Elk Grove Village, Palos Heights and Riverdale.

Columnist Dennis Byrne addresses this issue in a recent post at his blog The Barbershop and is generally supportive of red light cameras.

But, Byrne’s view seems naive when one digests the data the Tribune writers provide. These facts just objectify the gut feeling every motorist has held since the first red light camera was installed.

It’s about revenue…NOT safety.

Read this absolutely great piece, Red-light cameras raking in cash, in Sunday’s Chicago Tribune.

11 Responses to Tribune Exposes Suburban Red Light Camera Scam

  1. Now does this REALLY surprise anyone?

  2. DoR Employee says:

    Of course its about Revenue….

    Cameras don’t climb down off their pole and stop crime, nor do they cruise districts to look for gang members or other “honest” folk.

    The biggest problem with these cameras’ is that the photos are reviewed by civilians and not Police officers.

    The ratio of Red Light tickets that get dismissed is very Low from what I have heard, less than 10% from all accounts that I can find on line.

    And from what accounts I can Locate….those Spray’s or Distortion Tapes/Plate covers don’t work either….supposedly the camera’s can see the plate numbers with no problem.

  3. hilarious Joe says:

    “The biggest problem with these cameras’ is that the photos are reviewed by civilians and not Police officers.”

    Interesting….you could easily make that statement about conventional parking tickets in Chicago as well.

  4. DoR Employee says:

    Department of Revenue employees are not conventional civilians.

    Neither are the TMA’s that actually have the legal right to stop you in traffic and make you wait. Or legally have the authority to shut down roads and re-route you.

    And the City Clerks office also has the Legal Authority to cite you.

    We gave the Police Department the municipal codes they need to enforce Parking, when they are actually bored enough to do it. Revenue issues the Ticket books also…..the Ticket doesn’t say Police Department Violation Notice after all.

    The Ser Co contractors are the ones I would complain about…..

  5. Greg says:

    I would love to see the stats on the red light cameras in Chicago.

    It is my understanding that when tickets go down at a specific intersection they move the camera.

    If it was about safety, why wouldn’t they keep the cameras there to keep the intersection safe?

    Probably because the revenue is down, so they move to an intersection where they can get that revenue again.

  6. The Parking Ticket Geek says:

    You know, this expose by the Trib actually makes Chicago’s red light camera program look ethically pure in comparison.

    I certainly have issues with the Chgo. program, but some of these suburbs are out Chicago-ing, Chicago.

    Of course, even in Chicago it is about revenue first, safety as an afterthought.

    Greg, I don’t think that’s true about Chicago moving cameras when revenue goes down at one intersection. I’ve never heard or seen that.

    If you or anyone has evidence to the contrary, I am all ears.

  7. TKM says:

    I don’t think red light cameras are entirely a bad thing. Yeah the revenue side seems to be a bit of a gimme. But on the other side it is also a bit of a gimme to pay a little attention and not run ‘em (can’t get a ticket if you don’t break the law). It’s not like it is a picture and a ticket automatically, there is SOME review before the ticket is issued right? I think my only problem is the flash some of the cameras I have seen use. That can be a little startling and distracting.

    Ironically enough I got caught by one once while in the middle of a conversation about red light cameras. Saw the flash go off in my rear view mirror and thought, isn’t this just a little funny.

  8. Mike says:

    Was at Great America in Gurnee and saw the cameras today. To the people in Gurnee who approved this measure. Nice to stick it to the people who visit Six Flags. Get raped in the park and if now there’s a good chance you’ll get raped on your way home. The park and the malls make enough money. Anything else is greed and everyone knows it. Schaumburg wisely turned theirs off to appease their taxpayers AKA Woodfield Shoppers. Hopefully, you eggheads will do the same!

  9. Ray says:

    Is there a defense, or has anyone won because the camera has no photo of the driver? What if the owner of the vehicle wasn’t driving at the time and is not really sure who was actually driving the vehicle at the time? Isn’t the burden of proof on the City?

  10. John Adams says:

    Red light cameras are about revenue the same way Seatbelt Checkpoints are about Revenue. Which I’m glad to say I haven’t seen one of these in a while.

  11. BOB HOBERG says:

    ONLY A COMPLETE JACKASS THINKS THIS ALL ABOUT SAFETY. YELLOW DOES NOT MEAN STOP. IT IS UNSAFE TO HAVE DRIVERS SLAMMING ON THEIR BRAKES FOR YELLOW LIGHTS, NOT TO MENTION INEFFICIENT AND WASTEFUL. BESIDES, THE YELLOW LIGHTS IN THE CITY ARE TOO SHORT.

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