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Speed cameras will be quick to turn on
By Joseph Ryan and Dan Carden | Daily Herald Staff

If state lawmakers approved a plan to use cameras to ticket speeding drivers, red-light camera companies would likely be able to quickly use existing cameras, such as this one at Randall Road and Acorn Lane in Lake in the Hills.

 

Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

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Published: 7/15/2009 12:00 AM

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If - or when - lawmakers decide to allow cameras in the suburbs to track and ticket speeders, such powerful enforcement will likely spread quickly throughout the suburbs.

Some, if not all, of the scores of red-light cameras operating right now already monitor the speed of motorists, potentially meaning a quick addition of speeding tickets to the thousands going out for traffic light violations.

"If the city reaches an agreement" over speed enforcement, says Gatso USA President Andrew Noble, "we can turn that around quickly. Our speed detection system is extremely accurate."

Gatso, which has red-light cameras in Lake Zurich, Streamwood and Hanover Park, uses a combination of radar and in-ground sensors. The speeds of drivers are already being recorded on the system, but no tickets are issued because Illinois law doesn't allow that yet.

Some lawmakers want to allow ticketing via cameras for speeding in Illinois. Meanwhile, red-light camera companies like Redflex, RedSpeed and Gatso have been pushing for the addition of speed enforcement to their Illinois business portfolio.

Legislation to do just that failed this year in the state Senate.

The final measure proposed by state Sen. Terry Link of Waukegan would have given speed enforcement a start in school and hospital zones. But a majority of lawmakers balked, calling it a money grab by local governments and camera companies.

"These cameras are being used more as cash station machines than they are as safety equipment," said state Sen. Dan Duffy, a Lake Barrington Republican, who voted against the proposal.

Links says he plans to push the proposal again.

"With this type of technology, it's helping to prevent accidents. It's helping to prevent people from speeding. This is a safety factor and safety only," the Democrat said.

As written, the legislation proposed this year was vague about what kind of equipment would be required to monitor and ticket speeders. The measure called for "in-ground or aboveground detection technology." It remained unclear which agency would ensure the technology was accurate and well-calibrated.

Most red-light camera systems in the suburbs use in-ground sensors to monitor when a vehicle enters an intersection during a red light. An aboveground camera takes a picture and video of the incident.

Those in-ground sensors also can monitor speed. Companies using such technology, like RedSpeed and Redflex, have the majority of contracts in the suburbs. Company officials declined to discuss specifics of their systems with the Daily Herald.

But Carol Stream Mayor Frank Saverino said the Redflex camera in his village does track speed.

"We know they are speeding," he said of drivers blowing red lights in his town.

Carol Stream has one Redflex camera at Route 64 and Kuhn Road. Others are planned at Route 64 and Gary Avenue.

Rolling Meadows Police Chief Steven Williams also said the RedSpeed system in his community gives the speeds of vehicles.

Redflex and RedSpeed offer speed-specific camera enforcement technology. It is not clear whether they would first push to make red-light cameras also speed enforcers or turn to installing new cameras along busy state routes and interstates instead.

What is clear, though, is that they are ready for the expansion.

For example, Redflex is "aggressively" pushing more states to allow speed camera enforcement in an effort to improve corporate revenues, according to its 2008 annual report.

"We expect to see the growth in the USA market continue. As the clear leader in that potential multibillion-dollar market which is less than 10 percent penetrated at this stage, the opportunities for growth are enormous," said Graham Davie, Redflex CEO, in a letter included in the company's annual report.

In 2008, Redflex's net profit for the U.S. was $10.6 million with a 44 percent increase in camera installations. Speed cameras are now used in more than 40 jurisdictions across the United States, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. States where they are used include Tennessee, Arizona, Oregon, Ohio, New Mexico and Washington.