A proposed statewide ban on red-light cameras is garnering support in the Illinois General Assembly, where critics of the photo-enforced intersections say the measure has done the opposite of promoting public safety.
Bipartisan support is adding up in an effort to prohibit red-light cameras, which have collectively generated more than $28 million for cities within McHenry County since 2008, according to a recent Illinois Policy Institute study. Leading in the push for a statewide ban on the devices is state Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, who said the cameras do little more than generate money for local governments.
“My view is that it’s all about revenue and not safety,” McSweeney said.
Of the 11 red-light cameras that have been installed throughout the McHenry County area since 2008, only four remain, Illinois Policy Institute data shows. Those numbers include intersections in cities such as Algonquin and Lakemoor, parts of which lie within McHenry County.
Algonquin, which had four cameras from 2009 to 2012, has since eliminated them. Lake in the Hills, too, has done away with red-light cameras. The city, which at one time had three installed, eliminated them entirely by 2017.
One Fox River Grove camera in particular has sparked ire from a number of residents. It’s at the intersection of Routes 22 and 14, and it’s the only red-light camera the city has in place.
“In my opinion, it creates more anxiety because then when the light turns, people panic,” Crystal Lake resident Sharon Fulgenzi said.
In 2018, when researchers from Case Western Reserve University looked at traffic accident data from Houston, which operated its red-light camera program from 2006 to 2010, they found that while T-bone collisions decreased, other collisions, such as rear-end crashes, increased, the Illinois Policy Institute reported.
In Fox River Grove, however, the program appears to be working, Village Administrator Derek Soderholm said.
“If you look at the data, there were more crashes prior to the camera being installed than post-installation of the camera,” Soderholm said, citing an IDOT study.
Fulgenzi estimated she’s received about two or three tickets from Fox River Grove’s red-light camera. Although she tried to dispute at least one of them, she was forced to pay about $100, she said.
“You’re talking about people who are living paycheck to paycheck and you may think that $150 doesn’t sound like a lot, but that really hurts a family ...” Fulgenzi said. “That could be someone’s food for a week.”
According to a Red Light Running Statistical Analysis and Evaluation that Fox River Grove posted in July, red-light cameras and red-light camera photo enforcement warning signs have the ability to reduce traffic crashes and improve compliance with traffic control devices.
Since 2009, Fox River Grove has generated $5,574,951 from its single red-light camera, according to Illinois Policy Institute’s report. That money is placed in the village’s capital fund to be used toward projects including infrastructure improvements, and business facade grants, Soderholm said.
Although the number of red-light cameras in place locally has declined, the number of cameras outside Chicago in the state more than tripled from 2008 to 2018, to 301 from 86, according to the report.
The three municipalities outside Chicago that have generated the most red-light camera tickets are Berwyn, Country Club Hills and Lakemoor, which has generated $19.2 million since 2012, according to the report. In 2018, a group of motorists filed a federal class-action lawsuit against the village that alleged red-light tickets aren’t valid because the violation notices don’t reference the ordinance allegedly violated. The suit, which claimed the programs’ notification system doesn’t allow for due process, has since been dismissed.
Meanwhile, McSweeney has introduced several bills in recent years to ban the use of red-light cameras. One of those passed the House in 2015 but died in the Senate. Another one, House Bill 323, introduced in January, still is pending in the House, and last week it picked up two new Democratic co-sponsors, state Reps. Rita Mayfield of Waukegan and Sam Yingling of Grayslake.
And on Monday, state Rep. Grant Wehrli, R-Naperville, introduced a virtually identical bill, House Bill 3909.
“Studies have shown that it does not improve safety. In fact, that it increases rear-end collisions,” McSweeney said in an interview with Capitol News. “So this is really a revenue grab by local governments. And, as we’ve seen recently, this is obviously tied up, but likely with corruption.”
One private red-light camera supplier, SafeSpeed LLC, is at the center of a federal investigation that led to raids on the offices and home of the state
Sen. Martin Sandoval, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.
The Illinois Policy Institute confirmed that several suburban municipalities, including Lakemoor, contracted with SafeSpeed to operate red-light cameras, as of 2018.
“As the FBI’s Federal investigation into Senator Sandoval’s shady dealings intensifies, it’s time to re-examine the use of red-light cameras in Illinois and consider the type of ban he has repeatedly blocked,” Wehrli said.
• Capitol News contributed to this report