PIRG Report Cautions Against Red Light, Speed Camera Enforcement
Just as it looks like the Illinois General Assembly is poised to pass a law to enable Chicago to become the automatic speed camera enforcement capital of the U.S., Illinois PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) has just released a report detailing the pitfalls of such systems.
The group’s report, “Red Light Cameras Ahead: The Risks of Privatizing Traffic Law Enforcement and How to Protect the Public,” looks at the dangers these programs pose for municipalities, taxpayers and motorists. In many cases, Illinois PIRG believes revenue and profits often come before driver safety.
“Our report found that too many cities wrongly sign away power to ensure the safety of citizens on the roads when they privatize traffic law enforcement, said said Celeste Meiffren, Field Director of Illinois PIRG. “Nationally, automated traffic ticketing tends to be governed by contracts that focus more on profits than safety. That shouldn’t happen.”
Meiffrin is quick to point out that Illinois PIRG does not take a stance on whether or not traffic camera enforcement promotes safety.
“We really don’t take a stance on whether camera enforcement is a good or bad thing,” Meiffrin contends. “But in most cases it is not about public safety but about revenue. There are questions about the effectiveness of red light cameras but our report doesn’t address these issues.”
The City of Chicago has the largest automated traffic enforcement program in the nation with 191 red light camera equipped intersections and over 382 cameras issuing $100 tickets.
According to Illinois PIRG, 84 municipalities in the state have RLC programs making Illinois the state with third largest number of towns utilizing this enforcement technology. California comes in on top with 105 municipalities using automated camera traffic enforcement followed by Florida with 95.
While the group’s report is critical of automated traffic enforcement in general, it has guarded praise for how things are done in Chicago and Illinois.
“The good news is that Illinois and the City of Chicago have done a decent job of implementing protections for the public in these contracts,” said Meiffren. “We are lucky that Illinois hasn’t yet seen the controversy and lawsuits over red-light cameras found in states like Missouri and Texas. But looking at the growth of this industry around the country, we want to learn from problems elsewhere to prevent them in Illinois,”
Meiffrin says Illinois PIRG has been working on this study for about six months and the timing with the state legislature’s push for speed camera enforcement is serendipitous. However, Meiffrin has some concerns about Chicago pushing to change Illinois state law to allow for city RLCs to begin speed enforcement.
“It’s hard to know what the motivations behind it (the new speed camera legislation),” says Meiffrin. “It’s just critical the process is open form beginning to end, because there’s a huge potential for these contracts to put profits over public safety.”
PIRG’s report is also critical of the ease in which lobbyists move between jobs in government to positions representing RLC companies and influencing municipalities to adopt traffic enforcement technologies.
According to the report, RedFlex, the company that maintains Chicago’s giant RLC system, employed over 100 lobbyists in 18 different states nationally between 2006 and 2011.
“The industry’s business model depends on more governments adopting their technology and enforcing traffic laws in ways that boost the industry’s bottom line. In other words, when there is profit to be made from issuing traffic tickets, there becomes a lobby for creating more violations,”
The study has several common sense solutions for government entities which are considering embracing automated traffic enforcement.
This includes putting public safety first, make sure contracts don’t contain potential conflicts of interest, avoid incentives to vendors based on volume of tickets or increasing ticket volume, allow a transparent contract process and always retain control over traffic policy including the ability to cancel a contract if the public becomes dissatisfied.