As the bipartisan backlash against traffic cameras at red lights continues to escalate, a third Illinois state lawmaker has introduced a proposal to ban the controversial devices statewide.
Red light cameras have spilled a lot of ink in local government coffers, but more state lawmakers are warning of their tendency towards corruption and seeking to put an end to the devices.
On October 23, State Representative Kambium Buckner, D-Chicago, tabled Bill 3927 in the Illinois General Assembly. The measure would deny local governments the ability to contract with red light camera companies, repealing the section of state law that allows devices to record drivers at intersections.
Buckner’s bill is the third to be tabled that would align Illinois with other states’ negative views on controversial cameras. A growing body of research questions the legitimacy of devices as a tool for improving public safety.
Revenue generation is an area where red light cameras excel: An analysis by the Illinois Policy Institute in October found that Chicago and other Illinois local governments racked up more than $ 1 billion between 2008 and 2018, and that the presence of red light cameras outside of Chicago tripled during that time.
The expansion of red light cameras in Illinois came as the nation turned off devices. In addition to their questionable security usefulness, an ongoing federal investigation in Illinois has continued to highlight the high potential for political corruption and conflicts of interest that red light camera companies too often create.
In September, a series of FBI and IRS raids revealed that state and local officials had ties to red light camera company SafeSpeed LLC. The highest among them was State Senator Martin Sandoval, D-Chicago, who shortly after stepped down as chairman of the powerful Senate Transport Committee, a leadership position from which he helped shape Governor JB Pritzker’s $ 45 billion investment plan that doubled the state’s gasoline tax.
SafeSpeed is a long-standing political donor to Sandoval. A 2017 Chicago Tribune investigation found that the senator used his transportation presidency to pressure the Illinois Department of Transportation, or IDOT, to approve a SafeSpeed camera at an intersection in ‘Oakbrook Terrace after the company donated to its campaign. IDOT initially rejected the request, determining that the intersection was already safe enough. This Tribune report found that more than half of the intersections for which IDOT-approved permits were already among the safest in the state by the department’s own standards.
In Chicago, home to the most red light cameras and the biggest red light camera scandal, a city-funded report in March 2017 bolstered the benefits of its red light camera program and recommended its continuation. But more recent independent research has found that the devices can make intersections less safe and, at a minimum, increase rear-end collisions. In August 2017, Chicago was hit with an almost $ 40 million settlement after a class action lawsuit alleged the program violated motorists’ due process rights. A more recent class action lawsuit alleges the program is “unconstitutional” and does not meet a number of state law requirements.
Biparty pressure for a ban on red light cameras has recently gained momentum in Springfield. Buckner’s bill is the third so far this year. Other major sponsors of similar proposed reforms include state officials David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills; Jonathan Carroll, D-Buffalo Grove; Rita Mayfield, D-Waukegan; Sam Yingling, D-Grayslake; Grant Wehrli, R-Naperville; and Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield.
Springfield lawmakers should follow Buckner and others’ lead in using the remaining days of the General Assembly veto session to finally end costly red light camera scams in Illinois.