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Automated enforcement a boon for traffic safety
By Jeffrey Lilly | Guest Columnist

Jeffrey Lilly


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Published: 11/24/2008 12:15 AM

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Kildeer Police Chief Jeffrey Lilly supports the use of red-light cameras.

After years of successful use in other states and in Europe, automated red-light enforcement had recently been introduced in certain areas of the State of Illinois, including the greater Chicago metropolitan area.

In March 2006, the Illinois legislature passed a bill authorizing local municipalities to establish automated red-light enforcement programs within their jurisdictions. These programs provide for a local ordinance civil penalty of $100 that is assessed against the registered owner of a vehicle identified as violating a red traffic signal.

Red-light violations have been identified by the National Highway Transportation Safety Association as the third-leading contributing factor to traffic fatalities. In an area where traffic congestion is at an all-time high, red-light violations can be especially dangerous as they are more likely to result in traffic crashes.

The use of conventional law enforcement methods is problematic. Reductions in violation rates are temporary, being most effective during the actual presence of a police officer. Officers place themselves and others at risk during the process of getting into traffic and stopping red-light offenders, often causing further congestion in an already saturated traffic environment. Often, an officer is not able to safely get into traffic at all due to high traffic volumes.

Many police agencies have budgeted funds for special traffic enforcement units that are tasked with enforcement of high-risk violations such as red-light violations. In these economic times, it is more difficult to provide for budgets for these units that are funded by the general public. There are a limited number of resources available and police officers are being tasked with an increased number of duties related to the higher levels of service that have become the norm in this area.

There are several factors that make automated red light enforcement more preferable than conventional law enforcement methods.

Enforcement of red-light violations is provided at the same level regardless of the time of day, weather conditions or police call volume. Automated red-light enforcement does not affect the prevailing flow of traffic and with the absence of a police car using lights and siren there is no potential for an additional hazards to the motoring public.

Automated red-light enforcement is entirely funded by the red-light violator. No public funds are required to pay for a police officer and squad car to monitor traffic at a signalized intersection.

Automated red-light enforcement systems have been proven to reduce red light violations and traffic crashes. A study by the Institute for Transportation and Research at North Carolina State University concluded that the total number of right-angled red-light-related crashes dropped 42 percent with a 25 percent reduction in rear-end collisions. Garland, Texas, reported a reduction in crashes involving red-light violations of 56 percent with a 29 percent decrease in injuries.

There are a series of checks and balance that are intended to keep a municipality from installing automated red-light enforcement systems primarily as a revenue source without regard to the safety issues involved. Both the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Lake County Division of Transportation require a complete traffic study and analysis including a justification for the automated program with the use of supporting crash rate and violator statistics as well as an engineering study of the proposed intersection. State law precludes automated red-light enforcement vendors from basing their fees on a percentage of the violators caught. There is also a requirement in Illinois that all violations be viewed by a police officer through the use of a computer before the issuance of a violation notice.

With its proven track record of violation and crash reduction along with the widespread acceptance throughout the United States, Europe and Australia and the ability to provide for 24-hour enforcement without an increased burden on staffing and fiscal resources, automated red-light enforcement programs are a successful and effective method for improving the safety of our roadways.