Red-light runners may lose licenses
FINES RAISED | Daley wants city to have power to suspend licenses of chronic offenders

November 2, 2007
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter

Chicago motorists caught on camera running red lights may face even higher fines -- $100 or more -- to ease the pressure to raise property taxes.

But that extra $10 or so pales in comparison to the penalty Mayor Daley has in mind: suspending driver's licenses.
Daley wants stiffer penalties for red-light violators

At Wednesday's City Council meeting, Daley introduced a sweeping "organization and management" ordinance tied to his 2008 budget that, among other things, would empower the city to suspend the driver's licenses of motorists with five or more red-light camera violations.

Last year, the General Assembly gave cities the right to suspend licenses for red-light running. Daley is simply moving to take advantage of the power, said Wendy Abrams, a spokeswoman for the city's Budget and Management Office.

"Its intended purpose is to punish the most egregious red-light offenders -- those who have demonstrated a pattern of behavior that is dangerous to both motorists and pedestrians," Abrams said.

Last year alone, red-light cameras generated 304,011 tickets at $90 a pop, pumping $19.8 million in sorely needed revenue into the city's coffers. Through Aug. 31 of this year, the take was $14.9 million from 205,000 tickets.

Chicago aldermen have suggested raising the $90 ticket to $100 or more to roll back Daley's proposed $108 million property tax increase.

But they were divided on the idea of suspending driver's licenses -- particularly when 39 CTA bus routes are on the chopping block.

"Some people may have no choice but to drive. In the environment we're in right now, it doesn't make sense to suspend someone's license. For what? So they can't get to work to make money and pay their tickets? That's totally unfair. It's over the top," said Ald. Anthony Beale (9th).

Aldermen Howard Brookins (21st) and Ed Smith (28th) countered that no penalty is too tough for a me-first driver who chronically blows through red lights.

"Unfortunately for some people, you need more than $90 fine to get their attention. Clearly, it will be worth it if it saves a life," said Brookins, a candidate for state's attorney.

Smith said he knows one person who's gotten "at least five" tickets for red-light running.

"I talked to him. He said he's a little bit more cautious. A little bit? When you run five red lights, it's not casual. It's habitual," he said.

Thirty-nine accident-prone Chicago intersections have cameras -- and 31 others are expected to get them later this year. As many as 220 more cameras are expected to be installed over the next five years.