CHICAGO – The city of Chicago is leading the game in generating revenue from red-light cameras. Currently, we have implemented more red-light cameras–and brought in more money from them–than any other major city in America.
No other urban area can even compare to Chicago’s 309 red-light cameras. When the traffic resource was at its peak, there were nearly 400.
Only four of the 10 biggest U.S. cities presently operate these cameras–New York City, Philadelphia and Phoenix are the others. However, they fall far behind the Second City. NYC has 164 of the traffic control devices; Philadelphia has 30, and Phoenix just 12.
For reference, the town of Gurnee, Illinois has 15.
Because Chicago is so camera-happy, the city’s revenue has increased exponentially, amassing $719.7 million since 2008 from red-light cameras alone–twice the revenue in half the time of New York’s $286.7 million since 1994.
While the cameras may be an enormous source of city funds, they are frustratingly costly for drivers, and have been proven to create opportunity for government corruption and distrust.
Multiple government groups across Illinois have been found to continue contracting with Redflex Traffic Systems Inc., the red-light camera manufacturer with a history of corruption and scandal.
The company had been fostering a long-term bribery scandal throughout Chicago, with allegations surfacing back in 2012. The city cut off its Redflex connections; however, between 2015 and 2016, both the company and the city were given prison sentences in one of the most prominent bribery schemes in the history of Chicago.
John Bills, who used to work for the city’s department of transportation, received 20 counts of felony in the scheme for having acquired hundreds of thousands of dollars from Redflex in order to keep the company’s devices installed throughout the city–leading to its current leading position in red-light camera usage.
A Redflex official also alleged that the company offered bribes to “dozens of municipalities” across 13 other states. The CEO of Redflex was sentenced to 20 months in prison.
Regardless, the suburban Illinois areas of Gurnee, Carol Stream, Olympia Fields, North Chicago and Bellwood continued their contracts with Redflex. Gurnee extended its agreement in 2012, and again in 2015.
Now, it appears history repeats itself. State Senator Martin Sandoval (D-Chicago) recently became subject to an office raid during the hunt for information regarding his agreement with SafeSpeed LLC, another red-light camera vendor.
A 2018 Case Western Reserve University study found that red-light cameras have no apparent safety benefit. Researchers in the study analyzed traffic accident data from Houston–which utilized these cameras between 2006 and 2010–and discovered that rear-end crashes actually increased. Although T-bone collisions did decrease during that time, they found that the cameras most likely increased the number of overall accidents.
The Chicago Tribune also found in 2014 that rear-end collisions increased by 22 percent in Houston during that time, and that the number of crashes at a red-light camera intersection did indeed go up once the camera was put in place.
Many of the cameras installed in Chicago are located in intersections which already had a low number of accidents.
Although Chicago (and the rest of Illinois) has appeared to maintain a mind of its own in regards to red-light camera use, bipartisan support in the Statehouse is pushing for an overall ban. State Representatives David McSween (R-Barrington Hills) and Jonathan Carroll (D-Buffalo Grove) introduced a bill in January aiming to ban red-light cameras across the entire state. In early October, Rita Mayfield (D-Waukegan) and Sam Yingling (D-Grayslake) signed onto House Bill 323 as co-sponsors. A second bill to ban these cameras was also introduced just three days later.
In addition, the Tribune has reported that in analysis of over 4 million tickets issued between 2007 and 2014, many individual cases showed evidence of deviations in Chicago’s cameras caused by “faulty equipment, human tinkering or both.”
This clear misuse of traffic control equipment has given Chicago locals a strong reason to lose faith in their local government and to suspect corruption.
If these cameras are proven to bring more accidents to previously-low-risk intersections and place unnecessary financial burden on drivers–and they do–it is sensible for these bills to be passed easily and quickly.