Chicago and Illinois have well-documented and long-standing issues with corruption and kickbacks involving city and state officials. Unfortunately, recent local scandals associated with red-light camera programs, which have been proven to reduce serious and fatal accidents in cities across the country, including Chicago, are giving Springfield politicians ammunition for a statewide ban on the technology. If that happens, it’s almost certain to lead to increased road deaths, as we’ve seen in other US cities that have banned cameras.
In 2016, former Chicago Department of Transportation official John Bills was sentenced to 10 years in prison to direct business to red-light camera dealership RedFlex in exchange for bribes. Amid the scandal, then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced several reforms to the program, including the removal of 50 cameras at 25 low-collision-rate intersections and a new policy of holding community meetings before installation. , moving or moving cameras at red lights. deleted.
And last week, former Illinois state senator Martin Sandoval pleaded guilty to bribery, admitting in court that he took bribes from a contractor owner at SafeSpeed red lights in exchange for promoting RLC programs in the suburbs, Neal Earley of the Chicago Sun-Times reported. Lawmakers are taking advantage of the news to give new impetus to proposed legislation making cameras illegal, and they believe they have the votes to pass it. “It is clear that the red-light camera program has been sustained and expanded by corruption,” Sen. Mattie Hunter, a Chicago Democrat who introduced one of the two competing bills, said in a statement. “Traffic laws should be driven by safety, not corruption, shakedowns or the need to raise revenue.”
However, a 2017 Northwestern University study found that the Chicago cams have improved safety at the intersections where they are installed, as well as a positive “spillover effect” at other intersections. According to the report, injury crashes dropped by 10% at RLC intersections thanks to the cams, and dangerous T- and/or cornering crashes dropped by 19%.
In fairness, the Northwestern study also found that rear-end crashes increased by 14% at intersections where cameras were installed, similar to other cities. But the report notes that federal research has shown that T-collisions have a lost productivity cost to society that is about five times the cost attributed to damage from rear-end collisions.
Hunter said his bill would override the bylaws and apply to all municipalities in Illinois, meaning Chicago would lose those safety benefits. Besides, data from other cities indicate that more Chicagoans would die in crashes if the cameras were removed. A 2017 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety looked at 19 cities that removed traffic cameras in the previous decade. Compared to peer cities that retained cameras, the fatal accident rate at red-light intersections was 16% higher in cities that removed them. After Houston banned RLCs in 2010, fatal crashes at intersections rose 30% and collisions rose 116% overall, according to Data of the Houston police.
State Rep. David McSweeney, a Republican from Barrington Hills, is pushing for a similar, competing bill, and told the Sun-Times he also believes his efforts have gained momentum in the light of Sandoval’s guilty plea. “Anyone who votes against this bill will have to explain themselves on the issue of SafeSpeed and Sandoval and corruption,” McSweeney said.
On the bright side, McSweeny’s bill would exempt some self-governing municipalities such as Chicago, though that could still mean suburbs that currently have the cameras will lose security benefits. According to the Sun-Times on Wednesday, his legislation passed the committee unanimously, despite pushing a similar bill through the House in 2015, but that legislation ultimately died in the Senate without a vote. It is perhaps no coincidence that the chairman of the Senate transport committee at the time was Martin Sandoval.
“The mismanagement and corruption surrounding certain camera programs constitute a breach of public trust and those involved should be held accountable,” Active Transportation Alliance Acting Executive Director Melody Geraci said in a statement. . “Overall, red light and speed camera programs need to continue to be reformed and improved to maximize safety benefits. More revenue from camera programs should be spent on road safety infrastructure. But the solution is not to outright ban technology that prevents accidents and saves lives.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recommended the following guidelines to maximize the safety benefits of red-light cameras, while removing incentives for dealers to rig the system to maximize profits.
1. Place cameras at the most dangerous intersections
2. Targeting the most dangerous violations, i.e. blowing straight through the lights
3. Use standard signal timing
4. Allocate revenue to road safety programs
5. Encourage public input to help design the program and oversee changes
6. Be transparent — collect and publish data on how the program works
7. Don’t create bad incentives for the seller by paying them per number of tickets issued
8. Don’t install quick release cameras
9. Enable due process by having an easily accessible process to dispute tickets
10. Declining fines and payment alternatives, such as traffic school, for low-income drivers