Gurnee given green light to photograph intersections


New legislation to go into effect next year will give municipalities, including Gurnee, the green light to use camera technology at designated intersections to identify vehicles that violate red lights.

Representatives from RedFlex Traffic Safety Systems, Inc., which has installed traffic light cameras in 87 U.S. cities including Chicago, presented its Photo Red Light Enforcement Program to the Gurnee Village Board Monday.

The presentation included information on how the system works, statistics related to collision reductions while the cameras are in use, and video footage of motorists and truckers barreling through red lights at various intersections in Chicago, Gurnee and other cities that use RedFlex technology.

Mark Etzbach of RedFlex explained the cameras are triggered only after the light turns red. The cameras then record 12 seconds of video on vehicles which proceed through the intersection after the light has changed.

The footage is forwarded to the police department, which determines if a ticket should be issued. The ticket, which is not a moving violation, is sent to the vehicle's registered owner regardless of who was actually driving. Per legislation, tickets cannot exceed $100.

Mayor Kristina Kovarik said she supports installing cameras at Gurnee intersections including Route 132 and Hunt Club Road; Washington Street and Hunt Club Road; Routes 132 and 21; and Route 41 and Delany Road.

Resident Bob Wallace questioned whether the proposal was "all about revenue or safety."

The initiative, Kovarik said, "is meant to change drivers' behavior, not just hand out tickets."

Trustee Greg Garner said his first thoughts when he heard about the proposed cameras were, "I don't know if I like this. This is going to change the way I drive."

For safety reasons, though, Garner said he would support it.

Trustee Hank Schwarz said he liked the possibility of the cameras reducing traffic collisions because drivers will know to slow down. "If it saves one life over the course of five years, you've done your job."

When intersection cameras were installed in Culver City, Calif., said Etzbach, collisions were reduced by 65 percent.

According to his research, said trustee Ray Damijonaitis, intersection cameras can increase rear-end collisions. "You're exchanging one accident for another," he said.

Damijonaitis recommended the village determine what else it can do to improve safety at intersections before installing cameras, such as lengthening yellow lights. He also requested that the police department provide the board with a list of all the major intersections and a tally of accidents that were associated with motorists running red lights.

Hunt Club Road and Route 120, which Police Chief Robert Jones said he would insist on having cameras, has been the site of fatal accidents as the result of red light runners.

Just last August, 7-year-old Austin Dunn of Grayslake died at the intersection when his mother's Chevrolet Cavalier was broad-sided by a fully-loaded dump truck that ran a red light. Dunn's mother had been waiting to turn left onto northbound Hunt Club Road from eastbound Route 120 when struck.

Trustee Lyle Foster said he thought the video footage the cameras would provide is compelling, but he still had reservations about "Big Brother" watching motorists, not to mention the potential impact cameras may have on tourists unfamiliar with the system.

"We are a community that tries to attract people to shop, play and eat. They won't like getting a ticket with their visit," Foster said.

Damijonaitis agreed.

If the light is red, Jones said, "It doesn't matter what community you live in."

Per legislation, an intersection equipped with a camera must be posted with a sign alerting motorists that their vehicles are being monitored.

Resident Bill Smith, who lives near Route 41 and Delany Road, said trucks blow through the red light constantly. If cameras are installed and signs posted, he said, you can bet truckers will be on their CB radios warning all other truckers that cameras are watching.

"We can't get those cameras up fast enough," Smith said.

Those ticketed would be able to watch the recording of their violation on the Internet, and even pay the ticket on-line via credit card.

Through the technology, police could view live footage of an intersection, which would give them an instant assessment of any accident at the site. Police could also use the footage to help solve hit and run crimes, conduct vehicle counts, determine violation details by lane and keep on top of traffic trends.

All of this can be done via the Internet, without any special software, Etzbach said.

The cost of the cameras would amount to little if anything for the village, as RedFlex or any other vendor would receive a cut of the ticket fees. Per legislation, compensation must be based on the value of the equipment or the service provided and may not be based on the number of traffic citations issued or the revenue generated by the system.

Trustee Jeanne Balmes, who said she supported the concept of intersection cameras for safety reasons, questioned how much revenue the village could stand to generate. Etzbach said that figure could not be estimated.

The board is expected to discuss the matter again next month.