Chicago Inspector Finds ‘No Safety Motive’ for City’s Traffic Cameras

Chicago Inspector Finds ‘No Safety Motive’ for City’s Traffic Cameras
May 30, 2013

John Skorburg

John Skorburg passed away on Saturday, March 22, 2014. We're keeping his bio online as a small... (read full bio)

A recent audit by the Chicago Inspector General’s Office concludes the city “could not substantiate a safety motive” for traffic enforcement cameras. The IGO also uncovered some glaring inefficiencies in running the program. 

The IGO audit’s findings can be summarized in two simple points. According to the report:

(1) “First, CDOT was unable to substantiate its claims that the City chose to install red-light cameras at intersections with the highest angle crash rates in order to increase safety. Neither do we know, from the information provided by CDOT, why cameras in locations with no recent angle crashes have not been relocated, nor what the City’s rationale is for the continued operation of any individual camera at any individual location.”

(2) “Second, our audit uncovered little evidence that the overarching program strategy, guidelines, or appropriate metrics are being used to ensure the RLC program is being executed to the best benefit of the City or the general public. Specifically, we found a lack of basic recordkeeping and an alarming lack of analysis for an ongoing program that costs tens of millions of dollars a year and generates tens of millions more in revenue.”

“The City cannot effectively manage its programs unless it measures its programs,” said Inspector General Joe Ferguson in a statement. “In addition to finding that the City cannot prove RLC installation locations are based on safety considerations, we discovered a striking lack of basic recordkeeping and analysis for this $70 million program.”

The City’s official position, spelled out on the City of Chicago Web site, states, “Red light camera enforcement is designed to increase safety on Chicago streets. Cities across the country, and throughout the world, have been using the technology for many years.”

Senator: It’s About Money 

Illinois State Sen. Dan Duffy (R-Barrington), who has sponsored bills to ban red-light cameras, says the cameras are about revenue, not safety.

“Ninety percent of tickets statewide are written for right turn on red, and that is not a high-risk activity,” he said.

In a statement on his efforts to ban red-light cameras, Duffy notes, “A 2001 National Highway Transportation Safety Administration report entitled Analysis of Crossing Path Crashes revealed a typical motorist ‘could drive a billion miles before being involved in an accident that resulted from a motorist making a rolling stop on a right-hand turn.’”

Duffy has continued his crusade in the current legislative session by sponsoring Senate Resolution 314, which “urges any municipality operating unconstitutional red-light cameras to remove them immediately.”

The resolution also urges Illinois counties to investigate Redflex, a red-light camera company currently under federal investigation for allegedly bribing Chicago transportation officials to win the city’s business. The resolution further “urges all relevant entities to void all tickets issued in Chicago, the surrounding collar counties, and Madison and St. Clair counties [around and near East St. Louis] due to criminal activity and issue refunds for the fines to the citizens who paid them.”

Numerous Studies Question Cameras

Brian Costin of the nonpartisan Illinois Policy Institute likewise questions the underlying premises of red-light camera programs. He led a successful effort to have cameras removed from his hometown of Schaumburg, Ill., and has helped others who oppose the cameras by posting material on the institute’s website at IllinoisPolicy.org.

“Although many elected officials have embraced red-light traffic enforcement cameras, purportedly as a safety tool, a survey of red-light camera studies shows there are at least nine that raise significant concerns about the cameras, finding they increase accidents instead of preventing them,” he writes on the site.

“Supporters of the cameras claim they make intersections safer by reducing accidents, and they say any money made from the cameras is merely incidental to the primary focus of making intersections safer. Some research studies show the cameras improve safety, while just as many others show the cameras have little or no effect.”

Internet Info

“Report of the Inspector General’s Office: Red-Light Camera Installation Audit”: http://heartland.org/policy-documents/report-inspector-generals-office-red-light-camera-installation-audit

John Skorburg

John Skorburg passed away on Saturday, March 22, 2014. We're keeping his bio online as a small... (read full bio)