In Depth: Re-Examining Red Light Cameras

Cisco Cotto
January 15, 2020 - 6:00 am
Red Light Camera

Red Light Camera (iStock/Getty Images)

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(WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Red light cameras have no shortage of detractors, but their advocates insist they make roads safer -- and, yes, collect a little revenue in the process. 

So, who's right?

Illinois State Comptroller Susana Mendoza, for one, expresses doubt about red-light cameras and the organizations that run them.  

"It's a money grab. It's not about making the intersection safer," she tells WBBM Newsradio's Cisco Cotto. 

Her office recently stopped collecting red-light camera fines on behalf of suburban governments. She reasoned that withholding a portion of someone's tax refund could pose undue hardship on families, especially in cases where a motorist made an imperfect stop at a monitored intersection.

"I don't feel comfortable collecting anymore," Mendoza said. "Municipalities can still go after this revenue by hiring collection agencies, but remember, those collection agencies will not have access to those folks' tax return. So, it's going to be harder on the municipalities.

"I would argue this is a perfect time for them to revisit their programs."

Red-light cameras may have a good purpose in theory, government watchdog and commentator Andy Shaw says, but he agrees with Mendoza that enforcement programs have at least the appearance of being revenue-driven. Red-light camera systems have been plagued with operational problems and cozy relationships between government officials and companies that run programs, he notes.

Shaw says, however, the programs probably can be reformed to be effective. 

"I wouldn't throw out the baby with the bath water," he says.

Firmly on the side of red light cameras is Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. He says statistics back the argument that the camera technnology makes dangerous intersections safer. Rader concedes not all red-light programs are run effectively.

"They do work, and part of the problem in some communities around the country has been implementation. Because you, as a community, will shoot yourself in the foot if you make it appear that this is just a revenue-raising cash cow," Rader says.

In Depth is the WBBM Newsradio weekly podcast that takes a deep dive into a timely issue. Next week: the rising water levels of Lake Michigan.