Abels & Annes

Red-Light Cameras in Chicago – Saving Lives or Stealing Money?

Those who oppose red-light cameras argue that the only thing they’re good for is to generate revenue for struggling towns and cities, according to MSNBC. Advocates for the red-light cameras argue that these devices are used not to make a quick buck, but to increase motorist safety on roadways nationwide. With the threat of a possible ticket, drivers are likely to pass through these intersections more safely and your risks for a car accident in Chicago and elsewhere decrease.

More than 500 cities and towns in roughly half of all U.S. states currently have red-light cameras. These intersection watchers snap pictures and take video of drivers who run red lights. As contract for early adopters begin to run out, many wonder if cities are going to keep them around.
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Our Chicago car accident attorneys note that guidelines through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) make revenue an invalid justification for the use of the these intersection cameras. Still, our 400 red-light cameras in Chicago generated more than $64 million in 2009 alone. Safety advocates continue to insist they have made intersections in the city and its suburbs significantly safer.

Because most red-light cameras are contracted out to private companies, they get a large percentage of each fine. This is where oppositional parties argue that there is a danger of “vendor overreach” in increasing the number of citations to generate more money for the contractor. Complaints in Chicago have ranged from targeting busy intersections regardless of accident statistics (and therefore maximizing revenue) to shortening yellow lights in an attempt to increase the number of offenders.

As we recently discussed on our Chicago Car Accident Lawyers Blog, the NHTSA reported that more than 4,500 fatal accidents were at intersections or were intersection-related. Regardless of the presence of red-light cameras, nothing can replace safe driving skills.

Chicago started red-light camera enforcement back in 2003. Our city initially started the pilot program at two intersections, Peterson and Western and 55th and Western. Those locations were chosen based on crash data, according to The City of Chicago. As of May 1, nearly 200 intersections have been equipped with red-light cameras.

There have been a number of large studies over the past 10 years that have all concluded that these red-light cameras reduce accidents and injuries. The most recent study, published in February by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, analyzed 10 years of federal traffic data 99 of the largest U.S. cities. Nearly 15 percent of them have installed red-light cameras. The Institute calculated that had all 99 cities installed the devices, more than 800 lives could have been saved from 2004 to 2008.

“We still have thousands of people who die,” said Adrian Lund, the Insurance Institute’s president. “We look at where and how that’s happening, and one of the most dangerous (locations) is intersections.”

The U.S. Conference of Mayors recently approved a resolution that would endorse nationwide adoption of red light cameras.

These red-light cameras oftentimes lead to fines and, depending on the jurisdiction, can lead to costly points on drivers’ records. A number of these consequences result from borderline infractions like neglecting to come to a complete stop at an intersection before making a right turn.

Another recent study from the Insurance Institute found that there has been a significant decline in deaths from red-light accidents in cities that have installed these cameras. A number of researchers write off the cameras as the contributor to the decline because deaths from U.S. roadway accidents of all sorts have decreased significantly during the study period.

The City of Chicago offers drivers a map of red-light camera intersections throughout the city.

If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident, the personal injury attorneys and wrongful death lawyers at Abels & Annes offer free and confidential appointments to discuss your rights. Call (866) 99-ABELS. There is no fee unless you win.

Additional Resources:

Challenges to red light cameras span US, by Alex Johnson, MSNBC
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