Traffic Cameras Create Political Furor

(USA Today, April 5, 2015)

In a mayoral race in Chicago, an issue that is gnawing at Chicagoans is over red-light cameras. The angst in Chicago, where a red-light camera violation will set you back $100, is hardly an anomaly. From South Florida to Southern California, the use of red-light cameras by law enforcement agencies has emerged as one of the most contentious issues. Chicago has an expansive use of red-light cameras and the public outrage has been louder than most cities.

A recent Chicago Tribune research poll found that nearly 75% of Chicagoans want to eliminate or reduce the use of the cameras that are used for the detection, photographing, and fining of lead-footed drivers who run red lights. People call it the “red-light ripoff.” Mark Wallace, a resident of Chicago’s south side, has been hit with more than $1,000 in red-light camera tickets and has led protests in the city over the use of cameras. He said, “It’s nothing more than a way for the city of Chicago to create a slush fund that brings in a lot of revenue.”

Proponents say the cameras change drivers’ behavior, make roadways safer, and allow law enforcement to better use their officers. Opponents point to studies that show that the cameras don’t reduce accidents. At least nine states have laws that prohibit or significantly reduce the ability of law enforcement agencies to use red-light cameras. Currently, 459 communities throughout the USA use such cameras, down from the peak in 2012, when 540 communities were employing them.

Joseph Hunter, an engineering professor at Wayne State University who has studied the effectiveness of red-light cameras, said “that the cameras have long been a hot-button issue for many communities”.

Comment: A few years ago, cameras were installed on major roads near six schools in Seattle. This was unknown to me and most other people. I received a courtesy letter with a picture of my car stating that I was going over the speed limit in one of the school zones. Fortunately, it was just a warning, stating that soon, the warnings would cease and tickets would be issued for $189. This was very effective for me and I am happy to say that I have never received a “real” ticket. I travel this road often and don’t believe I have exceeded 18 mph in the 20 mph school zone since my warning.

So these cameras have been very effective, at least for me, and hopefully have saved lives or terrible accidents. I have to assume that red-light cameras will do the same.

By Roger Eigsti
Board President,
Institute for Business, Technology, and Ethics