Cameras that catch drivers running red lights or speeding in certain areas have been established in Chicago for several years, with results that are hard to quantify.
A new bill in the General Assembly would allow those same types of cameras to be installed in downstate communities, an idea that should be dismissed quickly.
Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Collinsville, has authored a bill (House Bill 4632) that would eliminate a rule restricting the use of such cameras to municipalities with a population of 1 million or more. This would allow the devices to be installed throughout the state.
The biggest problem with enforcement by camera is that there is no clear evidence the technology improves safety. In fact, various studies seem to contradict each other. There is plenty of evidence, however, that the fines that start at around $100 line the pockets of municipalities.
There have been numerous studies and every side can find a study to back up their point of view. Both accidents, and the number of miles traveled, have generally decreased in the last several years and it's difficult to determine if camera-enforcement had any impact. There is even one Chicago that claims the red light cameras in Chicago increased the number of overall accidents at intersections. There were fewer accidents in the intersection, but many more rear-end accidents at the stop lights.
Downstate legislators also disagree on whether allowing the cameras is a good idea.
"I'm not a big fan of cop-in-a-box," said state Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro. "Never have been. I don't think it gains too much, and my constituents feel like it's harassment."
But State. Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, said with the right regulations in place the cameras could be a step in the right direction for downstate Illinois.
He added that expanding the rule beyond Chicago would create more uniformity in state law.
Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, said that police discretion is an important function in the law enforcement process — one that a camera can't perform.
"The discretionary role that law enforcement plays is an important concept that is built into the rule of law," he said. "And that discretion goes away entirely when you fix cameras on our roadways.
Decatur has used cameras in certain high-crime areas, but those are not used for traffic enforcement.
The cameras may be useful in some limited areas – such as the use in construction zones to help ensure the safety of workers.
But there's no compelling argument that the cameras actually make roads safer. And it worries us when proponents of the cameras mention the amount of money the fines bring in. We trust law enforcement officers and the court system to make wise decisions and that is removed when cameras are installed.