It's time to put a red light on red-light camera plan
By John Sonderegger

John Sonderegger

Enough already with the red-light cameras.

The St. Charles City Council is expected to debate whether to hire a private company to install and operate these cameras at tonight's work session at City Hall. They're designed to catch motorists who run red lights, but I don't think safety is as much of an issue as raising money with the ticket fines.

I almost fell off my chair last week when councilman/mayoral candidate John Gieseke said, "I don't mind taxing people who break the law."

Hey, John Boy, it's not a tax, it's a fine. And I think you and Mayor Patti York appear just a tad tacky when you start talking about how you're going to spend this money before you even get it.

Think about this a minute. If the city can bring in extra cash from this red-light program, Gieseke and York are suggesting that money be used to help pay for utility tax rebates for people 62 and over in St. Charles. Now I benefited from the utility tax rebates last year, and I'll apply again this year. I'm fine with the $125 per household cap on this program, which now includes gas, telephone and electric bills. I'm sure I could get another $100, at least, if the program was uncapped. But I don't want this at the expense of people who get "caught" running a red light.

No, I'm not advocating careless driving that leads to accidents. I see plenty of that every day with people driving with cell phones attached to their ears and perhaps some of them do run red lights. If a person enters an intersection after the light has turned red, that person deserves a traffic ticket and if an accident happens, the red-light runner deserves other citations. But let the police handle it, not a camera operated by a private company.

More often than not I think the cameras are going to take pictures of people who are driving safely and get caught in traffic at an intersection and can't get through it before the light turns red. Or the camera will go off when someone approaches an intersection when the light is green and continues through it as it turns yellow so as not to hit their brakes and get rear-ended. If they think they're going to get a ticket, they will slam on their brakes at the last second and whoever is behind them may not have time to do likewise.

Councilman Mark Brown is dead right on this issue. "We might as well just give homeowners cameras and have them catch people going 28 in a 25-mph zone and they can send out tickets," he said. "Where does it end? These cameras are owned by private enterprises and they benefit by getting the pictures taken."

Brown said he went to St. Peters, where the program is in effect, and he watched a car at night enter an intersection when the light was yellow. The red-light camera went off before the car got through the intersection "and then the (strobe) light went off and it almost blinds you. I wonder what kind of problem that's going to cause."

Dave Dickherber, a St. Peters resident, said one of the cameras is just down the street from his home. "The really bright strobe is cool," he said. "We could have a Saturday Night Fever Party if we could get enough cars to run the light. I hope passing airplanes don't get distracted and try to land on Suemandy Road."

Dickherber said he figures drivers will learn which intersections have the cameras "and be good when they're driving through those intersections. Are our leaders willing to put a camera on every street corner?"

Brown rightly surmised that the company operating the system benefits by catching as many people as possible so "it's to their advantage to make the cameras as sensitive as they possibly can because every time that thing takes a picture of somebody, they make money. This is nothing more than a money-making gimmick."