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Cash cow or safety tool? That's the core of the debate over the installation and use of red-light cameras in the suburbs.
Our four-part series Seeing Red revealed that the majority of tickets issued through the use of the cameras are for improper right turns on red. Also, numerous cameras are installed or planned at intersections where few crashes related to running red lights occur. Those two findings make it clear that, so far, these cameras are about making money rather than improving safety.
Adding to the concern is the troubling fact that the state is not informed of violators (cars are ticketed, rather than the driver) and therefore repeat offenders are not tracked.
For these reasons, we call on communities who have installed or want to install red-light cameras to stop issuing $100 fines and instead only mail warning tickets until the system is fixed.
Or, like Schaumburg did this week, remove them completely if they are found not to improve safety.
This is not to say that national studies showing cameras can improve safety should be ignored. Nor do we believe that egregious traffic violations should be ignored.
What we do believe is these cameras should be used at intersections with statistically proven problems of crashes caused by running red lights. And they should not be used to punish an otherwise good driver with a significant fine for rolling over a white line before proceeding safely with a right turn on red. A police officer would not issue that ticket and neither should a camera.
Red-light cameras were approved by the state legislature and it's there where the problems should be fixed. Many legislators who once supported the cameras are now rethinking their view.
We recommend they:
• Eliminate camera tickets for right-turn-on-red violations. These violations are the biggest revenue producers yet do the least to improve safety. If an intersection has a proven safety problem, right turns on red should be restricted instead.
• Create an oversight panel or agency - funded by red-light camera companies or fines - that would approve red-light cameras with a strict set of standards to help weed out abuses. Too often the cameras are put on streets that do not have a proven safety need.
• Set standards requiring a full engineering study to determine if there are better ways than cameras to improve safety. Cameras should be a last resort.
• Require towns to issue warnings, not fines, for the first three months after installing cameras.
• Mandate cameras be monitored and a sunset clause put in place to remove them if they are not proven to reduce crashes.
• Require information on violators be shared with the state so repeat offenders can be tracked.
Pressure from the public is effective. Contact your local and state officials to let them know how you feel about red-light cameras.