Continuing its reporting into a red light camera system fraught with corruption,
bribes and questionable effectiveness, the Chicago Tribune has now released
findings that with the city’s transition to a new camera vendor last year came a
“subtle but significant lowering of the threshold for yellow light times.”
The hiring of a new vendor, Xerox State and Local Solutions, in 2013 became
necessary after the previous company, Redflex Traffic Systems Inc., was charged
with bribing city transportation official John Bills with more than $2 million.
But it seems not all is well with the new company, either, as The Tribune’s new
report found that disputed tickets issued by Xerox cameras are 50 times more
likely to have resulted from a yellow light shorter than the three-second
minimum than tickets issued by the previous company Redflex.
The city had already been in hot water in recent months for several thousand
tickets that may have been doled out to innocent drivers.
After public outcry, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office hired an independent company to
review nearly 16,000 tickets handed out through the red light camera system in
the past few years. The city said that their investigation determined a very
large majority of the tickets were issued with validity.
The city of Chicago has collected nearly half a billion dollars in fines from
citations triggered by red light cameras since 2003.
Abolfazl Mohammadian, Ph.D. is a professor of civil and materials engineering at
the University of Illinois-Chicago. He argues for the lengthening of yellow
lights, a move he believes will have the greatest impact on public safety.
“When red light camera systems are implemented,” Mohammadian said, “there is
generally an increase in rear-end collisions because people slam on their breaks
to avoid going through the intersection too late and getting fined. A system
with longer yellow lights would allow more leeway.”
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Mohammadian says the debate is still rightly ongoing as to
whether tickets from red light cameras are fair to drivers, but that
they often cause more harm than good.
“The studies on increased public safety as a result of these systems
are at best inconclusive,” he said. “Plus, the systems are often not
designed properly or malfunction regularly. That’s why Chicago’s is
such a mess and they’re having to review so many instances where
drivers may have been fined unnecessarily.”
State Sen. Tim Bivins, R-Dixon, is a former sheriff and has
opposed red light camera legislation. He says too often the
technology is not administered properly, and can be detrimental to
public trust in law enforcement.
“The cameras can be an effective tool, but they sure seem to cause
more headache than benefits,” the senator said.
Bivins also said that if city officials were honest with the public,
they’d admit the red light cameras are less about public safety and
more about money streaming into City Hall.
“There’s no reason so sugar-coat it,” he said. “This is about
revenue. If the city didn’t think they could make money off of this,
they wouldn’t do it and be so insistent that it’s a good thing.”
On the usefulness of tickets as a replacement for law officers,
Bivins is skeptical, and believes “there is just too much room for
error.” As for the charge of too-short yellow lights, Bivins said
the public will have to wait for all the facts to come out, but that
given the system’s track record there is room for concern.
Calls to Xerox State and Local Solutions to ask about potentially
shortened yellow lights were not returned.
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