Friday, January 23, 2015

Will Illinois Legislature have nerve to do away with red light cameras?

We have the chance to see a classic political battle this spring in the Illinois General Assembly; will the state Legislature have the nerve to irritate all those communities that are rushing to erect the cameras on their traffic signals to boost their enforcement efforts.

I’m talking about those cameras that can take pictures of offenses as they occur, with the pictures being used as evidence against the motorists who can receive a ticket in the mail shortly thereafter.

I SUPPOSE I should confess that I once received such a ticket – while driving through the suburb of Riverdale a few years ago, I supposedly stopped at a traffic sign and made a right turn without waiting for a long-enough time period before making the turn.

Because I was able to make the charge go away with an appearance in traffic safety school (a four-hour session to remind me of the Rules of the Road), I pleaded “guilty” even though I still think I came to enough of a “stop” before making the turn.

It was irritating, and I know I’m not alone. Way too many people scream out a stream of obscenities when they check their mail and find one of these tickets in their box.

It does come across as an attempt by the local government to extort another fee in the form of a fine to the municipality.

THAT IS WHAT inspired state Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, to sponsor a bill this spring session that would forbid any municipality from having such cameras installed in their community.

He cited a Chicago Tribune report about how such tickets were overbearingly issued within Chicago as evidence of how they shouldn’t be permitted anywhere in Illinois.

Yet I have heard way too many municipal officials across the state talk about these cameras as a financial savior not only because of the fines they attract, but also because they allow their local police departments to reduce the amount of officers on details for traffic enforcement.

I also know at least one former suburban police chief who thinks people have no right to complain about tickets that result from the cameras, on the grounds that signs are installed informing motorists exactly where the cameras are.

MEANING PEOPLE OUGHT to read those signs and use extra caution in the way they drive, unless they’re absolutely determined to get themselves a fine!

Still, I’m sure McSweeney will get himself his share of favorable press – the legislator who’s willing to do away with those cameras that they feel trap people into paying fines for questionable offenses.

Although will that press make up for the many municipal officials who will now deem him, and anyone else who publicly supports this measure, as the enemy who’s threatening their financial bottom lines?

Those fines, after all, do wind up totaling fairly significant sums. I know of some municipalities that really do rely on those fines in order to cover their essential government expenses.

THIS MEASURE COMES at a time when the City Council is considering restrictions on traffic enforcement camera use within Chicago. I’m sure there will be those who argue those restrictions are a sufficient change in public policy.

While others will argue this is one of those “local” issues that a higher form of government ought to “butt out” of – although it usually is state officials whining about the federal government who make that line of logic in their political arguments.

But if the public were to have its way, this probably would be a slam-dunk issue that would demand a 118-0 vote in the Illinois House and a 59-0 vote in the state Senate.

We’d wind up with the masses making a mad rush to their traffic signals to tear down those cameras with the same vehemence that Iraqis once used to rip down statues of Saddam Hussein following his downfall!


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