The use and effectiveness of red-light cameras increasingly are being called into question.
State Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, has proposed legislation that would regulate how the cameras could be used and would reduce the fines for red-light camera tickets from $100 to $50.
Meanwhile last month, Lake in the Hills took down two of the three red-light cameras it had installed. Lake in Hills was the first McHenry County community to use the devices.
“From the start, we looked at this as experimental,” said Lake in the Hills Director of Public Safety Jim Wales, adding that there were not enough violations at the two intersections – Algonquin and Hilltop roads and Miller and Randall roads – to justify continued camera use.
From December 2008 until December 2009, the number of violations combined at the intersections was 457. By comparison, the village’s third camera at Randall Road and Acorn Lane by itself had 596 violations during the same time period.
The cameras were meant to target problem areas and improve safety, Wales said, which was why the Acorn Lane camera was staying.
Wales said he was aware of critics who said the cameras were as much about revenue as they were about safety. He said that in Lake in the Hills that was not the case, emphasizing that the village did not use the cameras to issue citations for right-on-red violations.
“If it was about the revenue, we’d be going after the right-on-red violations,” Wales said. “We’re not because it’s not about [revenue].”
People who are turning right often pull up a little farther into an intersection before stopping in anticipation of making the turn. Sometimes motorists do not stop until they are past the painted line at the intersection. Technically, this is a violation.
Wales said Lake in the Hills was most concerned about a vehicle racing through an intersection and striking another vehicle broadside, something that is not a concern when a vehicle makes a right turn at an intersection.
“In a T-bone accident, there is a significant potential for great injury or property damage,” Wales said.
The right-on-red issue was one that Franks specifically was targeting in his legislation.
“[Many] of the violations are for right on red, when the real danger is someone running the red light,” Franks said. “The cameras are not serving the purpose they were intended for. This is quite a moneymaker. They say it is for public safety. If it is, then reduce the fines.”
Franks said changes had to be made if the cameras were going to continue to be used.
“I think its arguable whether it makes an intersection safer,” Franks said. “Let’s assume there are some benefits. We have to get rid of the right-on-red and reduce the fines.”
Unlike Lake in the Hills, Algonquin uses red-light cameras to ticket vehicles for right-on-red violations. However, Algonquin traffic Sgt. Jeff Sutrick said potential violations were reviewed before a ticket was issued.
“The standard we apply is ‘would an officer at the intersection have given a ticket,’ ” Sutrick said. “If someone pulls up and pauses before making a right turn, they probably are not going to get a ticket. We look at all of these cases individually.”
Sutrick said the department was evaluating whether right-on-red violations should be part of how the cameras are used.
Algonquin has a camera at Randall and Bunker Hill roads, two cameras at Algonquin and Randall roads, and one at Algonquin Road and Route 31. Between January and October 2009, Algonquin issued 5,768 red-light camera citations.
Through the first six months of fiscal 2009, revenues related to red-light violations totaled $340,504.
In Lake in the Hills, red-light cameras last year generated about $87,300 in revenue.
Wales said the costs of having a red-light cameras was about $4,500 a month for each camera. He said that the company that Lake in the Hills used, Lasercraft, essentially waived part of the bill if the cameras did not generate enough violations to pay for themselves.
Lasercraft had suggested that the village consider right-on-red violations, which would have boosted the overall number of tickets being issued, Wales said. The village decided against it.
Ultimately, the cameras are meant to be used as preventive, targeted enforcement. Wales said that after a year, it was determined that two of the three cameras in Lake in the Hills were not justified.
Wales said red-light cameras could be an effective tool if used properly and at the right location, he said, but it was difficult to quantify the safety impact the cameras had.
“It’s like a crime prevention program,” Wales said. “How do you prove how many crimes you prevented?”
By BRIAN SLUPSKI, firstname.lastname@example.org
Read the original article from the Northwest Herald.