Jerry Moore: Benefits of red-light cameras far outweigh the costs

Jerry Moore

Looking at the numbers, the costs of disobeying traffic lights is staggering.

The Federal Highway Administration estimates that motorists who run red lights cause at least 1,000 deaths in 100,000 crashes annually. The price tag comes out to $14 billion a year, an average of $140,000 per crash.

More local municipalities are using red-light cameras to catch scofflaws. The Illinois General Assembly approved the use of red-light cameras two years ago.

More than three dozen towns use equipment provided by the Lombard-based RedSpeed-Illinois. The fixed-position cameras record motorists who run red lights. If representatives of RedSpeed-Illinois find that a violation has occurred, the footage is sent to the respective police department for a final determination.

Violators are assessed a $100 fine, which they can appeal. RedSpeed-Illinois charges towns a maintenance fee of $1,499 per camera per month, paid for through the revenue the town receives in fines.

If a town’s fines are not at least $1,499 a month, the municipality is not charged the maintenance fee. All funds collected in excess of the $1,499 a month per camera fee are kept by the town.

Lisle implemented a monthlong warning period in June with its red-light cameras before it started assessing the $100 fine. From July 7 to 21, the village issued 188 citations, netting $18,800. Once $2,998 for its two cameras is subtracted, the village is left with a net revenue of $15,802 for the two-week period.

Debra Beerup, director of marketing for RedSpeed-Illinois, said towns see a 20 to 40 percent decrease in accidents from red-light violations after cameras are installed. She also said that using cameras has a “halo effect” at other intersections, compelling motorists to think twice about running red lights anywhere in a town that uses the cameras.

However, the devices have their detractors. David Hegland was the dissenter when the Villa Park Village Board voted 6-1 last month to install the cameras. He said the increasing use of surveillance in society should raise red flags.

I share his concern about private individuals coming under more government scrutiny. But if a town can send a police officer to an intersection to identify motorists who break the law, why can’t the same town take a picture of a car running a red light? What’s the difference?

Beerup gave the most compelling argument for allowing this technology to be used. She said that while the cameras are photographing the cars of red-light scofflaws, police officers can be patrolling areas where their presence is more needed.

I suspect that many towns are attracted to the cameras largely because they will generate money — and God bless them for it.

If they can increase their revenue while decreasing traffic accidents and deploying police officers more strategically, I say go for it.

Jerry Moore is a news editor with Suburban Life Publications and can be contacted at jmoore@mysuburbanlife.com. His blog, Suburban Shoutout, can be found at www.mysuburbanlife.com.