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Report: Traffic Cameras – Safety or Profit?

November 7, 2011

CHICAGO - At least 84 jurisdictions in Illinois have contracted for red-light and speed cameras in their communities, and state lawmakers this week may consider approving more. Only California and Florida have more cameras than Illinois.

Traffic-camera companies such as Redflex say their cameras make roads safer. But a new report from the Illinois Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) urges caution; it says that sometimes traffic-camera contracts put profits ahead of safety.

PIRG public interest advocate Serena Unrein says payments may be based on a percentage of fines collected or the number of tickets written.

"In the contracts, there is often the financial incentive for companies to issue more tickets and for there to be more violations, rather than fewer traffic violations."

She says such contracts create a conflict of interest for cities, whose primary goal should be driver safety and protecting the public interest. So far, Illinois PIRG says the state has done a decent job of that in its contracts - but as lawmakers consider expansion, they should continue to stress safety first.

Unrein says intersections can often be made safer through such traffic engineering strategies as longer yellow lights. But some traffic camera contracts specifically forbid such actions.

"Sometimes, these contracts would actually write in that cities would be prevented from retaining control over their traffic policy decisions that might actually improve public safety."

According to the report, Redflex Traffic Systems employed more than 100 lobbyists working to secure these contracts in 18 different states, including Illinois. Unrein says all that lobbying apparently had an impact out west.

"Redflex Camera Systems had bragged about their ability to keep a ballot measure banning traffic cameras off the Arizona ballot in 2010."

Chicago has 380 red-light cameras and state lawmakers are expected to consider a bill this week to expand automatic traffic enforcement. Unrein says the cameras didn't "play in Peoria" - Peoria, Arizona, that is, near Phoenix.

"The City of Peoria recently decided to stop having privatized traffic enforcement, because their research had shown the red-light intersections where there were cameras present actually had more violations than without."

While Illinois PIRG officials say Illinois has not seen the problems encountered in other states, they want lawmakers to put safety before profit in approving more traffic cameras on the streets.

The Illinois PIRG report is at tinyurl.com/7nduoyu

Mary Anne Meyers, Public News Service - IL