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Red Light Traffic Cameras!  The very name draws the ire of drivers whose cars were ticketed and photographed, and were fined, now $100 in the City of Chicago, for any violation of the red light law - from a blatant run of the red light, to a questionable rolling stop.

The system, developed and installed by the Arizona-based Redflex Traffic Systems, will have nearly 130 automated camera systems installed at key intersections throughout Chicago by the end of 2008. 

The high-tech flash cameras provide a still photograph of an alleged violators car approaching the red light, and in the intersection as the light is red.  It also provides a close-up shot of the offender's rear license plate, and - here's the dagger - 12 seconds of streaming video, which can be re-run and paused during review, to prove the alleged violation.

The cameras also record the exact vehicle speed (to one-tenth MPH) during the entire process, and allow precise timing of how long after the light turned red did was the driver in the intersection, as well as the duration of the preceding yellow light.

Some states, including Minnesota, prohibit the use of Red Light Cameras unless the driver can be seen in the photography.  Not so in Illinois, where the system, which photographs the car, but not the driver, passed review by the Illinois Supreme Court several months ago.  Their decision - the OWNER of the vehicle is responsible for the behavior of any driver he or she allows behind the wheel of any vehicle they might own.

Hence, if you lend your car to your teen-aged son or daughter, and they are caught on camera - YOU, as the registered owner of the vehicle, is held liable.  Despite the fact that the violation is not a PROVABLE MOVING VIOLATION, the steep fine is still due.

I mentioned "The Rig," and here it is:

In Chicago, many of the common-sense protections making Red Light Cameras a fair system do not apply!

Across the State of Illinois, each Red Light Camera Intersection must be marked with a highly-visible warning sign.  Not so in Chicago!  Across Illinois, standards for duration of the yellow light - at least three seconds, usually more, depending on the intersection - are a standard.  Not so in Chicago, where yellow-lights can be timed shorter, giving the advantage to the cameras.

In Chicago, if you attend an Administrative Hearing to protest your Red Light Camera ticket, you must present your complete case to the Hearing Officer up front, without opportunity for rebuttal after your facts are presented.  And, yes, you CAN appeal any seeming infraction by the hearing officer - but you must go to Downtown Chicago to do so, spend an hour or so waiting in line to make the appeal near City Hall, and pay nearly $95 (versus the convicted ticket cost of $100) to do so.  Not to mention parking or El fare, and the value of your time!

My own recent Red Light Camera Violation came at the corner of State Street and Roosevelt Road, on the Near South Side of Chicago, as my wife, Sue, and I, were en route to a wedding reception on a clear spring night last May.  The Red Light Ticket, which we received nearly a month later, showed us approaching the light, stopping for a fraction of a second, and making a turn. 

Our speed before slowing down was 18 miles per hour.  At the stop line in the intersection - 1.3 miles per hour.  The duration of the yellow light - an extremely brief 2.3 seconds!  According to the video, we were in the intersection 0.1 second after the light turned red - and there was negligible traffic nearby.

When we asked about the momentary stop we made before making the turn, we were told the stop has to be "clear and definite" - at least one or two seconds or more.  We checked back later on in the City or Chicago Municipal Code - it DOES NOT mandate a SPECIFIC PAUSE TIME for right turn on red.

There was no reckless driving.  No dangerous right turn (right turn on red WAS NOT PROHIBITED at this specific intersection, by the way).  There was NO WARNING SIGN, as required by State of Illinois law, but not necessary in Home Rule Chicago.  Yet, for this minor infraction, I received the same fine I would have gotten if I simply blew through the red light.  No live Chicago Police Officer would have written such a ticket!

Some contend the Chicago Red Light Cameras make intersections safer.  Perhaps, but some have actually CAUSED documented rear-end accidents, when drivers, seeing the camera system at the last moment, jam on their breaks, only to get rear-ended by the car behind you.  (And, by the way, if the car colliding with you from the rear pushes you into the intersection - through no fault of your own - you will receive a red light ticket).

The true reason - many believe - REVENUE!  City of Chicago Officials estimate they will generate $50 Million in Red Light Fines this year - most uncontested.

In our situation, our goose was cooked - my ticket held - and the only chance now to avoid the fine is to appeal the Hearing Officer's decision - at a cost EXCEEDING the fine!

I think now I will order some of that special Photo Stopper Spray that helps make your plate number invisible to the ever-seeing Chicago Video Camera System.  It's crazy, I know, but it may be the only way to protect yourself.

Coming to Chicago?   If you're driving, make sure to bring your wallet.  And watch out for those annoying Red Light Cameras!

For more on Chicago's system of Red Light Cameras, there are many articles and blog posts written.  For starters, check out Gary Washburn's article from his March 4, 2008 "Clout Street" column in The Chicago Tribune.  If you Google, "Chicago Red Light Cameras," you'll find many more!


Posted: Wednesday, July 23, 2008 8:46 PM by Dean's Team


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