An investigative report by the Chicago Tribune uncovered that thousands of Illinois drivers have been issued faulty and undeserved tickets by red light cameras across the state.
The 7-page investigative story is astounding. In their report, the Tribune notes that more than 4 million red light tickets have been issued since 2007, some of which were caused by faulty equipment, human intervention or both.
To investigate the recent spike in red light tickets, the Tribune conducted a 10-month study of more than 13,000 questionable red light tickets at 12 intersections throughout Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. After analyzing all the data, the journalists uncovered:
- Cameras that used to generate only a few tickets a day were suddenly catching dozens of drivers. For example, a light near the United Center averaged one ticket per day up until a two-week period last summer where it averaged 56 tickets per day. After the two-week period, it dropped back down to one or two tickets a day.
- There appeared to be an unannounced change in the way cameras ticketed rolling stops. Of the 100 tickets a North Side camera issued in the second half of 2011, only 12 were for rolling stops. Then, over a 12-day period, the light issued 563 tickets. 560 of those were for rolling stops.
- Many spikes were preceded by periods of very few tickets, meaning human intervention likely produced the spike, but city officials have no record of tinkering. They also stated they have no idea how the records could have been lost. (Were they ever recorded in the first place?)
- Drivers who appealed their red light ticket won their case less than 10 percent of the time.
Experts say there are only two possible causes for the spike in tickets, undocumented human intervention to catch more drivers, or faulty equipment. Either way, it’s the public that suffers, to the tune of $500 million since 2003.
The city said they independently viewed 300 random videos from the spikes and went on record saying no tickets were issued in error, but they would not release the camera footage to substantiate their claim.
Brett Appelman comments
Since the very beginning of the red-light-camera program there have been many issues regarding their lawfulness and reliability. Thousands of people have argued that the cameras are not in fact able to distinguish between a lawful stop at a red light, and someone running the red light. Many cities across the country have had to remove all of their red-light-cameras and discontinue their use due to lawsuits and financial losses to the municipalities.
In Illinois, the tickets given out from these devices are not considered criminal in nature so they prosecutor does not have to prove you are guilty of a violation beyond a reasonable doubt. The law considers these tickets as civil in nature, so the burden of proof the prosecutor must meet to find you liable is much lower. Many times the video is blurry or slightly obscured, but the defendant is found liable anyway.
These red-light-camera tickets are about one thing and one thing only: money. The cities are simply trying to raise more funds by squeezing every last dime out of the drivers on the roads. The companies who install and run the cameras end up taking a huge percentage of the money collected, so they certainly have a motive to set the cameras up to simply give tickets to everyone, whether a violation occurred or not. As I stated before, due to these discrepancies, many cities and even some states have moved to ban, or are in the process of banning these devices. Illinois should follow suit and ban them as well, and if they do uncover foul play or faulty equipment, they should refund drivers. People need to be shown that this system is designed to catch illegal driving maneuvers, not an arbitrary system to steal money from law-abiding citizens.