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A case for Chicago's red light cameras

Written by
Brendan Kevenides

Red light cameras are present at 174 of Chicago's intersections. When a driver runs a red light, the camera snaps a photo of the offending vehicle and its license plate. A traffic ticket is then mailed to the driver. The city touts the cameras as a means for keeping Chicago's streets safer by encouraging drivers to resist the urge to run lights. Others feel that the whole project is little more than a money grab by Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration. His opponent in the current mayoral run-off, Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, recently told Reuters that the cameras are "one more way Chicagoans are pick-pocketed every day." He would only keep those cameras with a track record for reducing crashes.

Presently, two bills are pending in the Illinois General Assembly, HB173 and HB487, which would prohibit the use of red light cameras. But the cameras do more than just snap photos of red light scofflaws. They record video continuously, not just when a violation is detected. That video is kept by the Chicago Department of Transportation for about 30 days before it is erased. It is remarkably simple to acquire a copy of video from a particular camera from CDOT under the Freedom of Information Act. Time and resources are saved by the parties involved and by the judicial system as a whole.  

Lost in the sometimes angry debate over red light cameras is the considerable benefit victims of traffic crashes, especially bikers, often receive from them. These eyes in the sky can be enormously helpful when investigating an intersection collision. Finding a witness to corroborate the facts is one of the more challenging aspects of representing injured bicyclists. If the incident involved a motor vehicle, passengers of the vehicle are rarely helpful witnesses for the bicyclist. Video, on the other hand, is unbiased. Often it helps lawyers build a case against or exonerate a driver who caused a crash. It would be a shame if this resource were to disappear.

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