CHICAGO – In a saga that was several years in the making, the city of Chicago has concluded the vast majority of its traffic citations assessed from red-light ticket cameras will stand.
After coming under intense public pressure this summer from questionable ticket-dolling trends, the city council contracted a third-party group to review nearly 16,000 tickets issued by red-light cameras at select intersections.
Grant Thornton LP was the company hired to review the tickets in question, which then mailed letters offering a chance to challenge the fines to 15,855 motorists who were deemed to potentially have been victims of unnecessary citations.
Of those 15,855, 3,285 drivers requested review.
Grant Thornton LP found that 96 percent of the tickets were valid, and nullified 126 of the 3,285. Those drivers whose tickets were nullified will receive a cash reimbursement.
Since 2007, the city of Chicago has issued more than four million tickets via red light camera, bringing in more than $400 million. After public outcry over suspicious ticket spikes at a handful of city intersections during peak traffic hours, the mayor’s office responded by launching an investigation into the red light camera system in the city.
Rahim F. Benekohal is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and said instances of mass misappropriation when it comes to tickets from red-light cameras are rare and the systems are generally reliable.
“They are cheaper and more accurate than in-person law enforcement,” Benekohal said. “And they remove any chance of bias or misjudgment because they’re machines and are going to operate uniformly every time.”
Benekohal said the red light cameras are a tool for improving safety and reducing cost.
“The argument about net safety gains is still ongoing,” he said. “But we know they reduce intersection collisions and that’s a good thing. Read-end collisions, even if they’re slightly increased by these cameras, aren’t nearly as dangerous.”
Abolfazl Mohammadian is a professor of civil and materials engineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago and says red-light ticket cameras are both good and bad, depending on your point of view.
“They’re certainly an improvement – accurate, cost-efficient, etc. – over employing a greater number of police officers,” Mohammadian said. “But there is some debate over whether they’re a fair way to distribute tickets. We don’t want a society where cameras are everywhere and people are never not being taped.”
Mohammadian suggested yellow lights should be made longer to give drivers more time to make a decision, thus reducing accidents and tickets as well.
Mayor Emanuel’s office identified 12 problem intersections that made up the bulk of the 9,000 tickets. Because of the complaints, Emanuel said the public trust has been breached and the city must work to gain it back.
“There should be no inequity in the system,” the mayor said in a statement. “There should be no aberration. Even though it’s a small percentage — less than one percent — it has to be 100 percent right for there to be trust.”