June 15, 2009

By State Sen. Dan Duffy

Everyone favors making our roads safer for citizens, but “Red Light Cameras” put revenue above safety. These cameras are supposed to help prevent accidents by taking pictures and issuing tickets to people who speed through intersections while the light is red. Instead they are being used as ATMs by some towns, making camera companies rich, and are actually increasing accidents in some intersections. 

Last November the Village of Schaumburg installed a camera at Woodfield Mall. The camera generated $1 million in fines in just three months. It was estimated that 70% of the tickets issued by these cameras were sent to people who turned right on red legally. These individuals made a complete stop but they had to roll past the white line to see around potting boxes and other obstructions to their view. However, cameras cannot make judgment calls. Once your wheels cross the white line, a picture is taken and a ticket is sent to your home. Since there is no police officer present to evaluate the situation, how can you explain the incident should you take the time to go to court?

The Sixth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution provides that we all have the right to face our accuser. How do we face a camera? A camera, not a person, now has the ability to automatically accuse, convict and set the penalty on citizens. And, the ticket is sent to the owner of the car, not the driver. We have no recourse unless we decide to spend thousands of dollars to hire a lawyer and fight a one hundred dollar ticket. 

If it was really about safety and not about revenue, why not just install “no turn on red” signs at troubled intersections? In some intersections where these cameras are currently installed, safety has suffered. There have been instances where people are trying to turn left when the light turns yellow. In order to avoid receiving a ticket from the camera, they hit the gas peddle to get out of the intersection and create an accident instead.

The other alarming fact is that the cameras are being installed by companies who receive 30 - 50% of the revenue. Illinois already has major corruption problems. The enormous dollar volume these companies could reap brings concerns of more pay to play politics. Camera companies and villages have every financial incentive in the world to issue as many tickets as possible. This is the real reason why you are seeing red light cameras popping up on every corner.

I am completely opposed to red light cameras and believe we should do everything we can to repeal existing laws that allow these cameras to operate in Illinois. We need creative solutions to our traffic and revenue problems that do not infringe on our liberty.