State may allow cameras to stop red-light runners
BY JOHN HUSTON
Lawmakers are considering a measure that would help police catch motorists who run red lights.
A bill being discussed in the Illinois House would give communities the authority to install cameras, controlled by sensors under the pavement, at intersections to catch red-light scofflaws.
The State Senate voted 33-22 in favor of the bill, introduced by John J. Cullerton, D-6th, of Chicago.
Cullerton said Chicago's red-light camera program has been successful.
"This bill is a tremendous promoter of roadway safety and it dramatically reduces fatalities at red lights," Cullerton said.
He rejected any objection that the use of cameras is an invasion of privacy.
"If you don't run red lights, you won't have your picture taken," Cullerton said.
Chicago began its camera program at one intersection in November 2003, before growing to 10 intersections by the end of 2004, said Brian Steele, spokesman for the Chicago Department of Transportation.
He said, "At the intersections that have red-light cameras, violations have dropped an average of 30 percent from the day the camera was put in place until current day."
By the end of the year, he added, Chicago will have 60 intersections with red-light camera enforcement. The initial startup cost was $2 million, Steele said, about $200,000 per intersection.
Although the program was adopted to increase safety, Steele said revenue generated by tickets has paid for the cameras. Since November 2003, there were approximately 346,000 citations issued for red-light violators caught by intersection cameras, or $22.3 million in revenue.
Sensors below the pavement can determine when a vehicle is running through a red light, which triggers three photos -- one as the vehicle moves into the intersection against a red light, another 1.2 seconds later to show it continuing through the intersection and a third of the license plate.
If the images are clear, they are passed on to Chicago's Department of Revenue which issues a $90 ticket to the owner of the vehicle, Steele said.
After the Senate approved the bill to give other communities authority to install cameras, State Rep. Angelo "Skip" Saviano, R-77th, introduced it in the House; it currently is in the Rules Committee.
Saviano, like Cullerton, rejects privacy objections to the program.
"I don't consider it Big Brother," Saviano said. "It will eventually act as a deterrent."
But State Sen. Wendell E. Jones, R-27th of Palatine, voted against the bill, one of 22 senators to do.
"I think we've got enough big government looking down our back, so I tend to vote against that kind of thing," Jones said. "You can go too far with the government looking at everything."
He also doubted the program would be applicable to smaller towns.
"I know that in Chicago it's probably a safety factor, but I doubt that it is anywhere else in the state. And it's just more intrusion into people's lives," Jones said.
Cmdr. Michael Soucy of the Buffalo Grove Police Department said a lot of research would be needed if the department were to buy and install the cameras.
Ignacio J. Pena, chief of East Dundee Police and president of Illinois Association of Police Chiefs, said, "Where it might be feasible is in smaller communities with shared intersections where they could do it together."
He added that technology and safety grants are available that could be applied toward a red-light camera program.
"The Illinois Association of Police Chiefs supports the concept, and we certainly hope the legislation passes," he said. "It's a safety issue. It's a traffic concern. We read about the sensationalized crimes or media-ized crimes as they occur, but the reality is that traffic or traffic control is one of the most devastating things in our communities."
According to the Federal Highway Administration, more than 1.8 million intersection crashes occur each year. About 206,000 of those in 2003 (the latest year for which statistics are available) were because of red light running -- resulting in 934 deaths and approximately 176,000 injuries.