House passes plan to let more counties use cameras to catch red-light violators

Aaron Chambers

Rockford’s plan to catch red-light violators with cameras at intersections cleared a major hurdle Thursday when House lawmakers narrowly approved it.

The House voted 65-39 in favor of the plan after a contentious debate over whether cities want the cameras simply to generate more revenue from traffic tickets. In the 118-member chamber, 60 votes are necessary for bill passage.

The Senate will now consider the plan.

“If in fact you are running red lights, and you are jeopardizing other people’s safety, then you should be penalized. You should be ticketed,” said Rep. Chuck Jefferson, D-Rockford.

But even as Jefferson implored his colleagues to back Rockford’s plan, another local lawmaker urged them to reject it.

Rep. Dave Winters, R-Shirland, previously expressed support. But on Thursday, he said he was moved by news reports about cities shortening the length of yellow lights to prompt more tickets -- and consequently causing more accidents.

“As hundreds of people start to get red-light tickets, the awareness in the public is, ‘Oh my gosh. The yellow light is on. I’d better slam on my brakes,’” Winters said. “And they in fact drive up the number of rear-end accidents quite substantially.”

Winters said Rockford should instead consider extending the length of yellow lights.

Reps. Ron Wait, R-Belvidere, and Jim Sacia, R-Pecatonica, also voted against Rockford’s plan.

Under current law, only Cook and seven other counties may use cameras to catch red-light violators. Jefferson’s bill would add Winnebago and seven additional counties to the list.

A ticket prompted by a red-light camera can cost as much as $100 in Chicago and other Illinois cities. Rockford currently charges $75 for a red-light violation issued by a police officer but hasn’t said what it might charge for a camera-based red-light ticket.

City officials have not said how much money they expect such a program to generate, or how much it might cost to implement and maintain. But city officials say the city would earn enough in ticket revenue to pay for the program and not much more.

They also say they’re primarily concerned with reducing accidents by discouraging red-light violations.

If the experience of other cities is any indication, Rockford would see a cash windfall initially but the flow of cash would slow as red-light violations drop off, said Russ Rader, spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which promotes the technology.

Sens. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, and Brad Burzynski, R-Clare, oppose the red-light camera plan, saying they see it as merely a revenue grab by the city. However, Syverson and Burzynski said they hope to work with the plan’s Senate sponsor, Chicago Democrat John Cullerton, to address their concern.

Andrea Zimmermann contributed to this report. Aaron Chambers can be reached at (217) 782-2959 or