No Evidence Chicago Red Light Cameras Based on Safety -- System Made $71 Million Last Year

May 24, 2013 - 2:43 PM

No Evidence Chicago Red Light Cameras Based on Safety -- System Made $71 Million Last Year

Red light camera at a Chicago intersection. (AP)

( – Contrary to its claims, the City of Chicago’s red light cameras are not based on safety, according to an Inspector General (IG) audit of the program that brought in more than $71 million in revenue for the city last year.

The audit, released on May 14, sought to determine if the city’s 384 red light cameras were installed based on the Chicago Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) “stated primary criterion of reducing angle crashes to increase safety.”

The IG found no evidence to support the city’s rationale for the program, which is to “increase safety on Chicago streets.”

“CDOT was unable to substantiate its claims that the City chose to install red light cameras at intersections with the highest angle crash rates in order to increase safety,” the IG said.  “Neither do we know, from the information provided by CDOT, why cameras in locations with no recent angle crashes have not been relocated, nor what the City’s rationale is for the continued operation of any individual camera at any individual location.”

The IG also found it “troubling” that the CDOT could not provide any documentation as to how they chose intersections to place red light cameras and why cameras remain at intersections that have reported no accidents.

“If the intent of the [Red Light Camera] RLC program is to increase safety and reduce the number of dangerous angle crashes, it is troubling that CDOT cannot produce documentation or an analysis demonstrating how each camera location was chosen, including all of those currently in operation, was chosen,” the audit said.

The program issued 612,278 tickets in 2012, and generated revenue totaling $71,943,053.00.

No Evidence Chicago Red Light Cameras Based on Safety -- System Made $71 Million Last Year

Red light cameras in Chicago. (AP)

The IG said it “uncovered little evidence that the overarching program strategy, guidelines, or appropriate metrics are being used to ensure the RLC program is being executed to the best benefit of the City or the general public.”

Furthermore, there is a “lack of basic recordkeeping” for a program “that costs tens of millions of dollars a year and generates tens of millions more in revenue.”

The red light camera program began in July 2003.  There are currently 190 intersections in Chicago with a total of 384 cameras.  Cars caught going through red lights are ticketed $100.

The cameras were purchased between 2003 and 2010, costing the city $19.1 million.  CDOT contracts with Redflex Traffic Systems, a speed and red light camera company, to operate the program at a cost of $1,564,920 a month.

Still, the program’s revenue brings in more than three times what the city pays Redflex, averaging $5,995,254.42 per month in 2012.

The IG said it did not find evidence that the program is designed to maximize revenue.

The red light camera program was “designed to increase safety on Chicago streets,” and the city says it selects locations based on crash data, read the report.

However, the IG audit revealed that 42 percent of the intersections with cameras were not on the city’s “Top 205 Angle Crash Rate” list, a list of the most dangerous driving intersections in Chicago.

Last year, a St. Louis judge ruled that red light cameras are unconstitutional, finding they violate a person’s right to due process.

Commenting on the ruling, Judge Andrew P. Napolitano, a Senior Judicial Analyst for Fox News, said red light cameras are “unconstitutional, it doesn’t keep us safe, it’s just a cheap way to raise more money and you didn’t give people a fair trial.”

Chicago has only relocated 10 cameras since 2003.  The CDOT is supposed to continually evaluate cameras to be relocated to more dangerous crossroads, but the IG did not find evidence of the department doing that.

Seven intersections that had zero angle crashes in 2010 still have red light cameras, the IG found.

The CDOT faulted the “previous administration” for the flaws in the red light camera program.  The “vast majority of the RLC location decisions were made five or more years ago during the previous administration,” the department said in its response to the audit on May 8.

“Almost none of the current CDOT leadership was involved with the program at the time,” they said.

The IG recognized that the majority of the cameras were installed under different leadership, but said the department cannot explain why it has not relocated cameras to more dangerous intersections.

“[C]ameras installed years ago are still in operation today, and the Department cannot produce documentation demonstrating how each camera location was chosen or why cameras in locations with no recent angle crashes have not been relocated pursuant to CDOT’s relocation criteria,” the IG said.