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Red-light cameras: Safety tool or moneymaker?
By Kathryn Grondin | Daily Herald Staff

This red light camera at the intersection of Kirchoff and Rohlwing roads in Rolling Meadows has been operational for about a month. Eight more cameras are planned at undisclosed locations.


Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

Signs at intersection of Aurora Avenue and Fort Hill Drive in Naperville warn drivers about red light cameras that have been installed..


Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

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Published: 3/2/2008 12:08 AM | Updated: 3/3/2008 4:25 PM

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More suburbs in the coming months are expected to give the green light to plans for cameras to nab motorists running red lights.

Naperville launched its program Saturday, joining Lake in the Hills, Rolling Meadows and Rosemont as communities with active cameras. Dozens of towns, though, have contracted for the cameras and more are considering such a move.

But as officials in those towns stress the goal of the electronic eyes is to modify driving behavior and reduce accidents, critics say it's all about municipalities eyeing dollar signs.

The National Motorists Association, for example, claims photo enforcement isn't even the most effective method to improve traffic safety.

"Cities don't like to do (other) measures because they cost money and don't bring in the revenues that the cameras will," said Aaron Quinn, spokesman for the Waunakee, Wis.-based group.

The backlash against the devices was so significant in Bolingbrook that red-light cameras installed last May were deactivated six months later, despite accidents dropping an average of 40 percent.

Elected officials admit they pulled the plug after an outpouring of complaints.

"It wasn't worth the fight at the time," Trustee Sandra Swinkunas said. "It was too much of people not understanding why and not following the law."

Nevertheless, it appears the debate will rage on as the number of towns adding the red-light cameras -- and the list of motorists getting $100 tickets -- continues to grow.

"We want to change driving habits," Lombard Police Chief Ray Byrne said. "I want to cut down on accidents. This is not intended as a revenue generator."

Making roads safer

The Federal Highway Administration estimates that red-light running causes more than 100,000 accidents and 1,000 fatalities a year.

Illinois' move toward red-light cameras has been gaining momentum since 2006, when state lawmakers voted to allow the devices.

Manufacturers of the fixed-position cameras say it's the next-best option to having a police officer standing at an intersection.

"I live in Chicago and I wish they had them at every corner, because I can't tell you how many times I've almost been run over," said Robert Liberman, managing director of RedSpeed Illinois.

The Lombard-based firm installed its first cameras 16 months ago in Bellwood. Now it has contracts with three dozen municipalities.

As part of RedSpeed's system, three company employees review video from the cameras before sending footage of apparent violations to police. Sworn officers then make the final determination on whether a ticket should be issued.

The process allows for motorists to appeal the $100 ticket, which doesn't go on their driving record or get reported to their insurance provider.

Generally, towns see a 25 percent decrease in accidents during the first few months and a 40 percent drop after a year, according to Liberman.

"The safety benefit is quite significant," he said.

Rosemont police said the two red-light cameras that the village installed at intersections with high pedestrian traffic have helped to prevent accidents.

"We try to be very fair with (motorists)," police Sgt. Keith Kania said. "If they come to a stop after the white line, they don't get a ticket unless the camera shows a pedestrian there hopping out of the way."

Police said they're selecting camera locations carefully.

Naperville chose its initial two intersections -- 95th Street and Book Road and Aurora Avenue and Fort Hill Drive -- based on years of crash data combined with red-light running.

Money to be made

Catching motorists making the wrong move can be profitable.

Naperville officials estimate the cameras they activated Saturday at two intersections could add about $2.4 million to the city's coffers. That's based on predictions of issuing 1,000 tickets a month at each intersection. The city pays the vendor a flat fee, $180,000 this year, for its two cameras. Roughly 30 cameras in Chicago netted $20 million for the city in 2006. And a single camera in Bellwood resulted in 500 tickets in one month, or $50,000 in ticket fines.

Doug Krieger, Naperville's finance director, said the projections are realistic based on talks with the vendor. He added that the city's contract with the company is based on a flat fee, so there will be no incentives for the vendor if an increasing number of citations are issued. The city will pay $180,000 this year for maintenance of the cameras at the two intersections.

Still, police and municipal leaders insist they aren't relying on the cameras as a revenue source.

"We're not looking at this as a revenue generator for our community," said William Mueller, Lombard's village president.

Even if they were, Liberman said, that's not a bad thing.

The municipalities can use the cash to repair roads, upgrade traffic signal lights to increase safety and augment their police force.

"They can put the money back into safety," he said.

Mueller said cameras have the potential to help everyone save money.

If accidents drop, insurance rates should go down, said Mueller, a retired insurance agent.

Meanwhile, he added, local governments could see lower manpower costs because fewer accidents mean fewer police, fire and paramedic calls.

Not everyone sold

Not all communities are jumping on the red-light camera bandwagon.

In Gilberts, for example, officials said the village doesn't have enough high-traffic intersections to justify installing the devices.

Meanwhile, critics argue that the cameras could cause more harm than good.

"There have been plenty of studies that show rear-end accidents will go up after the cameras are installed," said Quinn of the National Motorists Association.

A Virginia Transportation Research Council study last year revealed mixed results involving cameras in six communities. In some jurisdictions, injury accidents increased with cameras while decreasing in others. The report also said rear-end collisions didn't drop after motorists adjusted to the cameras' presence.

Liberman said studies show many different results.

"For every study I've seen that show negative results, there are just as many studies that have a documented safety improvement at the locations," he said.

Still, the National Motorists Association advocates alternatives to cameras, including increasing the duration of yellow lights and establishing a period where all signals are red to give motorists time to clear the intersection.

Quinn said the cameras are simply unfair.

"Sometimes the lines they use for red-light cameras are imaginary, they aren't even marked," he said. "If there is snow or ice on the road you can't even see where you're supposed to stop."

Liberman said that's why there are safeguards in the process.

"Nobody likes getting a ticket, including myself," he said. "People should really be paying attention to what they are doing when they drive."

Cameras aimed at motorists


Lake in the Hills: One camera activated Jan. 18 at Randall and Acorn roads.

Naperville: Cameras turned on Saturday at Fort Hill Drive and Aurora Avenue; 95th Street and Book Road. Warning citations issued for first month; after, violators get $100 ticket.

Rolling Meadows: Two cameras activated a month ago at Rohlwing and Kirchoff roads. Locations for 8 others not disclosed.

Rosemont: Cameras working since August at two intersections: River Road at Balmoral Avenue; River at Bryn Mawr Avenue.


Addison: Army Trail and Swift roads; Army Trail and Route 53; Lake Street and Addison Road; maybe more to cover the village's 10 most dangerous intersections.

Algonquin: Algonquin and Randall roads; Randall and Bunker Hill Drive; Routes 31 and 62.

Aurora: Contract approved for cameras at up to 20 intersections, including some along Route 59. First cameras may be operational by late spring or early summer.

Lisle: Maple Avenue and Route 53; Ogden and Yackley avenues; Route 53 and Warrenville Road.

Carol Stream: Eastbound North Avenue at either Gary Avenue or Kuhn Road; southbound Gary Avenue at North; westbound North at Schmale Road; southbound Schmale Road at North; southbound Gary at Lies Road.

Deer Park: Lake-Cook and Rand roads.

Elk Grove Village: Busse and Higgins roads; Devon Avenue and Busse.

Geneva: Randall and Kaneville roads; Fabyan Parkway and Kirk Road; Randall and Williamsburg Avenue; Randall and Fargo Boulevard.

Gurnee: Route 132 and Hunt Club Road; Route 41 and Delany Road; Route 132 and Dillys Road; Route 21 and Washington Street; Routes 132 and 21; Washington and Hunt Club.

Hoffman Estates: Barrington and Higgins roads; Golf Road and Barrington; Golf and Route 59; Higgins and Roselle roads; Golf and Bartlett roads.

Palatine: Ten cameras. Specific intersections are not yet chosen.

Prospect Heights: Palatine Road and Milwaukee Avenue.

Roselle: Lake and Gary; Roselle Road north of Elgin-O'Hare Expressway.

St. Charles: Routes 31 and 64; Route 31 and Illinois Street.

Wheeling: Milwaukee Avenue and Hintz Road; Milwaukee and Dundee Road; Lake-Cook and Northgate Parkway; Dundee and Elmhurst Road; Elmhurst and Hintz; Palatine Expressway and Wheeling Road.

Wood Dale: Wood Dale Road and Thorndale Avenue.


Buffalo Grove: Considering: Dundee and Arlington Heights roads; Buffalo Grove and Lake-Cook roads; Lake-Cook and Arlington Heights roads; Lake-Cook and Route 83; Arlington Heights and Route 83.

Elgin: Considering 30-day feasibility study at: Big Timber Road and McLean Boulevard; Lillian Street and McLean; McLean and Route 20 (eastbound); Chicago Street and Shales Parkway; Bowes Road and McLean; Liberty and Summit streets; Liberty and Villa streets; McLean and Larkin Avenue; Kimball and State streets and Dundee Avenue and Summit.

Oak Brook: Several likely to be placed along busy 22nd Street corridor.

Schaumburg: Testing cameras at Meacham and Woodfield roads.

Pingree Grove: Considering cameras for: Route 47 and Route 72; Route 47 and Route 20. Not until intersections are rebuilt later this year.

West Dundee: Considering: Routes 31 and 72; Second and Main streets; Route 31 and Boncosky Road.


Batavia, Carpentersville, Cary, Des Plaines, DuPage County, East Dundee, Glendale Heights, Lake Zurich, Libertyville, Streamwood

Source: Interviews, news files