- Associated Press - Friday, February 13, 2015

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - In a story Feb. 13 about legislation that would ban the use of red light cameras in Illinois, The Associated Press erroneously reported that former Redflex CEO Karen Finley pleaded guilty to corruption charges. She pleaded not guilty to those charges. A former consultant for Redflex, Martin O’Malley, pleaded guilty in December to one count of conspiracy to bribe a public official.

A corrected version of the story is below:

Illinois bills seek to ban red light cameras drivers hate

Illinois lawmakers propose banning use of the red light cameras that cities like, drivers hate

NICK SWEDBERG

Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - The fight over red-light cameras has landed in the Illinois Legislature, where lawmakers who say the recording devices are “dishonest” and fail to make driving safer are pushing to ban them in communities across the state.

Touted by towns as a way to make intersections safer, the cameras are reviled by drivers, who say they have difficulty challenging tickets. Others, including opponents in the Statehouse, say the cameras are nothing more than easy money-makers for communities that don’t improve safety and - in some cases - can cause more crashes.

“It’s a revenue grab by local governments,” said state Rep. David McSweeney, a Republican from Cary who wants the cameras banned statewide.

Seven states prohibit the use of red light cameras, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. A Missouri lawmaker proposed a statewide ban there last month.

Another measure, introduced by State Rep. La Shawn Ford, a Chicago Democrat, would halt the city’s red light camera system until officials submit a report to the General Assembly detailing how they plan to address problems, including shortened yellow light times, unannounced changes to enforcement patterns and thousands of tickets issued under questionable circumstances.

Chicago’s system, which brings in more than $500 million a year, also triggered a bribery scandal involving the previous owner, Redflex Traffic Systems Inc., whose former CEO, Karen Finley, pleaded not guilty to corruption charges in 2014. She is accused of funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash to a retired Chicago official in exchange for help securing a $124 million contract. Martin O’Malley, a former consultant for Redflex, pleaded guilty in December to one count of conspiracy to bribe a public official.

But there also are questions about how effective the cameras are. A study commissioned by the Chicago Tribune in 2014 found the cameras did not reduce injury-related crashes overall. One part of the study found a 22 percent increase in rear-end crashes with injuries.

Some officials, though, say the cameras work.

Aurora Police Chief Greg Thomas said the cameras in his city have been “fairly successful” at lowering the number of crashes at intersections since they were first installed in 2009. City officials chose intersections for the cameras that were deemed difficult to monitor using traditional police methods.

Ford said drivers who break the law should have to pay fines and fees.

“But that’s not the question in Chicago,” Ford said. “The question is whether or not the system is fair” because it lacks “real due process” that would allow drivers a chance to challenge tickets.

He said drivers who wish to challenge a ticket need to request a hearing during normal business owners, often having to take time away from work. He wants a report on Chicago’s system to spell out fixes to the problems.

Brandon Backs received a red light ticket in 2011 while driving home from St. Louis. He was ticketed by mistake after rolling to stop just past the line.

The 25-year-old from Springfield said he’s not the biggest fan of the cameras, but thinks they serve a purpose if municipalities can work out the issues.

“If they can perfect the cameras, or update them so they’re more consistent, I’m all for it,” Backs said.

Communities outside Chicago haven’t struggled with their cameras, making a statewide ban unnecessary, Ford said.

And many of them have raked in a lot of money.

A sample of suburbs that use the cameras reported revenues ranging from $250,000 to nearly $1.5 million a year.

The Will County city of Plainfield collected about $250,000 in fines from the two cameras there. In suburban Cook County, cameras in Des Plaines drew about $500,000 in both 2013 and 2014, while the Village of Melrose Park reported collecting more than $1.32 million in 2012 and $1.47 million in 2013.

In Aurora, in Chicago’s western suburbs, Thomas says the city’s five cameras generate nearly $1 million a year from fines. Even so, red-light ticket revenue amounts to far less than 1 percent of the total city budget, Thomas said, adding that losing the cameras to a potential statewide ban won’t make a big dent.

“I don’t think we’re going to close the doors or go bankrupt because of red light cameras, but it is a loss of revenue,” he said.

___

The bills are HB173 and HB487.


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