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Guest View: Time to eliminate red-light cameras in Illinois

The presence of red light cameras at various intersections across the state is a reality most motorists have come to accept as a condition of modern living.

Community leaders tell their constituents that the cameras might be intrusive, but the safety benefits far outweigh any concerns they might have about the red-light cameras.

However, do the ends justify the means when it comes to red-light cameras?

A recent Chicago Tribune study showed the red-light cameras in Chicago have contributed to a 15 percent drop in the dangerous right-angle (T-Bone) crashes that often lead to serious injuries. Unfortunately, red-light cameras also have contributed to a 22 percent increase in rear-end collisions that resulted in injury.

The results of the Chicago Tribune study mirror a 2005 study of 132 intersections in seven cities throughout the country by the Federal Highway Administration. According to that report, there was a 16 percent decrease in right-angle accidents that resulted in injury, while at the same there also was a 24 percent increase in rear-end crashes that result in injury.

The evidence seems clear. Red-light cameras do reduce right angle crashes, but they also lead to an increase in rear-end crashes. As one of the researchers in the Chicago Tribune study observed, “The biggest takeaway is that overall (the program) seems to have had little effect,” said Dominique Lord, an associate professor at Texas A&M University’s Zachry Department of Civil Engineering.

Not only do red-light cameras fail to deliver the promised safety benefits, they also fail to deliver accurate results in the allocation of fines. The Chicago Tribune conducted a 10-month study of 12 intersections and found there were 13,000 questionable red-light tickets issued at those intersections.

Each red-light violation in Chicago carries a $100 price tag. Most of the time, violators know the futility of fighting red-light camera fines, so they just write a check and forget about it. So even though there are clearly flaws in the system, the vast majority of people receiving tickets are not able to avoid paying fines issued in error because they pay the fine rather than fight it in court.

Additionally, Chicago has the largest red-light camera system in the country, but the city also employs three-second yellow lights – the shortest yellow lights allowable. This is a dangerous combination. An abundance of red-light cameras and the shortest amount of time to bring a vehicle to a stop does little to improve safety but does quite a bit to generate revenue.

We believe the red-light cameras are nothing more than revenue enhancements for local governments. Since 2007, the red-light cameras have generated approximately $500 million for the city of Chicago; a hefty sum. Communities with red-light cameras have become dependent on the revenue. Even though the safety benefits of the cameras are minimal at best, communities continue to use the cameras because of the revenue the cameras generate.

Illinois residents already pay more than their fair share of taxes. Why should taxpayers face the risk of being unfairly fined for driving to work each day? This is why we are proposing legislation to eliminate red-light cameras in Illinois. We need to lower taxes to promote economic growth and job creation. Red-light cameras primarily serve as a revenue enhancement tool at great cost to taxpayers.

Red-light cameras cannot guarantee enhanced safety nor can they guarantee fairness in how the tickets are issued. It is time to eliminate red-light cameras in Illinois once and for all.

• Duffy, a Lake Barrington Republican, is a state senator who represents the 26th District, and McSweeney, a Barrington Hills Republican, is state representative who represents the 52nd District.

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