Red-light camera proposal moves on

November 30, 2006
By ANDRE SALLES Staff Writer

AURORA -- Aldermen gave the go-ahead to red-light cameras at Wednesday's Finance Committee meeting.

With virtually no discussion, the three committee members unanimously recommended sending requests for proposals for automated red-light cameras.

These cameras would automatically ticket motorists who run red lights, recording the offending vehicle's license plate and shipping tickets through the mail.

According to police Cmdr. Joe Groom, the Aurora Police Department's point man on this project, the resulting fines, expected to be $100, would not constitute a moving violation and would go to the vehicle's owner, not necessarily the driver.

The city of Chicago uses these cameras extensively, as do many other municipalities throughout the country. Groom said the cameras have been shown to reduce accidents in every municipality the department examined.

The city has isolated 20 high-accident intersections as target areas for the cameras, and the plan, according to Groom, is to roll them out at five locations first, with an eye toward equipping all 20.

Those intersections, he said, account for 20 percent of the traffic crashes in the city.

Public Information Officer Carie Anne Ergo said the first five intersections have not been chosen yet and would be selected jointly by the city and whichever company wins the contract.

"We'll take all of our traffic data, including accidents, violations and traffic volume, and we will decide where it makes sense to deploy these cameras first," she said.

A state law signed in May gives municipalities outside of Chicago the authority to use the technology, but it does not allow the cameras to be paid for with money collected from tickets.

Therefore, the city will pay cash up front, and then pay a per-ticket processing fee to whichever company they choose to operate the cameras, Ergo said.

State law does not currently allow the use of automated cameras to track speeders, only those who run red lights.

The city does expect to recoup its costs through collected fines, and Groom said the money it takes in will far exceed the expenses. However, Alderman Leroy Keith emphasized that the goal is not to generate revenue for the city but to decrease accidents.

"This is good stuff," he said at Wednesday's meeting. "I think this will help us."

But not every municipality has had success with the cameras. Controversy over the effectiveness of the technology contributed to the state of Virginia's decision in 2005 to discontinue its use in seven areas of the state. According to the Washington Post, while supporters said the number of accidents dropped at certain dangerous intersections, opponents called them a violation of privacy and accused governments of using them as revenue generators.

In January of 2005, the Virginia Department of Transportation, in conjunction with the University of Virginia, published a study on the seven municipalities in the state using the cameras. The study found an overall increase in crashes at intersections with the cameras installed, although researchers recommended continuing the program in Virginia.

The Aurora issue goes before the Committee of the Whole on Dec. 5.