If you are a driver in the Chicagoland area then you know your worst enemy. No, not the bikers who fail to see instructions on the road or the traffic wardens who spot out an expired parking meter just seconds before you run back to your car. The real enemies of any driver in Chicago are those ever vigilant red-light cameras. Their purpose appears simple: to accurately catch and fine those who do not respect the rules of an intersection. However, their true nature stems from a much more evil, corporate mindset.
Starting out in 2003, at a few test intersections, the red-light cameras in Chicago have now spread to nearly 200 intersections all over the city. Yet, few people seem to know that the city is not the one who keeps tabs on them. The cameras are installed and maintained by Redflex Traffic Systems, a private firm who provides the same services to 240 other cities in the U.S. This Orwellian idea parallels the recent privatization of the parking meters, where the city government is no longer the one providing services to its people. The red light cameras are owned by a company who is trying to make a buck out of our mistakes. Sure, the fine you pay goes to the city of Chicago, but a portion of it falls right on some corporate bonus. Furthermore, like any self-respecting company, Redflex Traffic Systems is going to try and increase its profit margin. This means reducing the time yellow lights are on and being extremely precise on whether your car crosses the white line or not.
I can rant on the privatization of city services for hours but at its core, this is not the real problem with the red-light cameras. The underlying issue here is that these “virtual law enforcers” are exploiting a loophole in the criminal law. When you are stopped for speeding by a police officer you have the chance to plead your case and provide an excuse for your actions and if this fails, you will receive a traffic offense and a strike on your driving record.
I am aware that there is a website where you can view a video of your car committing the offense and even take the case to court. However, said video simply shows your vehicle and a detailed scan of the license plate. If you are in the middle of a medical emergency, any police officer stopping you would try and help you get to the hospital despite the fact you are bypassing speeding laws by doing so. If a camera spots you rushing to the hospital, it won’t care, you will receive the fine in the mail right next to the emergency room charges.
Finally, I come upon my biggest gripe against red-light cameras. As I mentioned before, when a trooper stops you and finds you guilty, you receive a strike on your driving record. This is considered a moving violation. Receive too many of these and your license is revoked. When a camera mails you a ticket for the same reason the cop stopped you, it is the equivalent of a parking ticket. This means there is no effect on your driving record. Therefore, it is possible to have reckless drivers remain on the streets as long as they have the money to afford the tickets they receive. The cameras do not protect drivers, they are annoying roadside attractions meant to make our lives just a little harder.