Illinois Legislation Proposing Trial by Phone

Daily Herald - Feb. 10, 2010

State Sen. John Millner, a Carol Stream Republican, introduced legislation Tuesday he said would address problems identified with photo enforcement of red-light laws. The solutions? New signs, repainting the cameras and prohibiting municipalities from shortening the yellow-light time.  We'd like to say this is a start toward reforming the kinds of wholesale mismanagement associated with red-light cameras, but come on. New signs? Prohibiting communities from programming nonstandard yellow-light times, a practice that ought to be unconscionable in any circumstance?  Millner also touted a provision of the legislation that would require a community's police to review every red-light infraction, something already required in existing law.

The law also would enable ticketed drivers to fight their cases by telephone, instead of traveling to court. There's something to look forward to, a half an hour or more waiting on hold for a bureaucrat to come on the phone and tell you you're wrong and you have to pay up anyway.

In a comprehensive 2009 report, the Daily Herald found serious flaws in the way red-light cameras are placed and infractions are enforced. The placement is usually based on volume at an intersection rather than on data involving accidents or safety, and the overwhelming proportion of tickets are written for rolling through right turns on red rather than the much-more dangerous practice of running straight through a red light.  Millner's proposal does nothing to address either of these situations. Indeed, he pointedly emphasized that he doesn't want to do anything to address the right-turn issue for fear it would send "a bad message" to motorists that an incomplete stop before a right turn on red is OK.  What the legislation doesn't seem to recognize is the "bad message" sent by current red-light enforcement that the law exists as a cash cow for local communities and does little to improve safety.

We greatly appreciate lawmakers' recognition of the problems associated with red-light camera enforcement. But they should be fashioning legislation that addresses the clearly identified problems:

• Locating cameras based on volume of traffic, rather than safety data;

• Concentrating tickets on minor right-turn infractions;

• Assessing high $100 civil fines that don't get reported on a driver's safety record;

• Letting the private camera companies maintain records, rather than local governments, whose actions are subject to public scrutiny;

• And, failure to focus attention on unsafe straight-through violations of red lights.

Repainting signals and writing new signs may have some value in helping motorists better understand the laws they are supposed to follow, but until these more-significant issues are addressed, red-light cameras will remain an unfair, inconsistent, ineffective and inappropriate means of enforcing red-light laws.