Illinois Red Light Cameras: Anatomy Of A Scam

Last week, the Daily Herald and the Chicago Tribune each ran lengthy articles exposing the “dirty little secret” behind red-light cameras in Illinois suburbs. While the cameras were sold on the idea that they would ticket reckless drivers who blow through intersections, the reality has been much different.

The Daily Herald’s investigation showed that:

Of the 16 municipalities that issue citations for right turns and were able to break down their violation data, 100 percent acknowledged the majority of their tickets come from right turns. The total of right-turn citations going out per town ranged from 100 percent to 64 percent. Six municipalities estimated the rate of right-turn tickets was 90 percent or higher of the total violations.

As the Herald points out, right turns on red are not a significant safety problem:

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data analyzing vehicle maneuvers and accidents shows that 0.8 percent — less than 1 percent — of fatal crashes in 2007 occurred when a driver was turning right. […]

DuPage County Board Member Paul Fichtner calls the predominance of right-turn violations the technology’s “dirty little secret.” “It’s almost like bait and switch,” said Fichtner, arguing that local officials are sold on the idea of stopping reckless behavior when they approve red light cameras but that the results don’t match the hype.

The Tribune highlights an example of a proud bureaucrat bragging about how much money his city has taken from (mostly out-of-town) motorists:

When the very first red-light camera was planted in the suburbs at 25th Avenue and Harrison Street in Bellwood, it instantly became more than just a traffic control device.

It became a cash machine.

That one device generates $60,000 to $70,000 a month in revenue from traffic fines for the western suburb, Bellwood Comptroller Roy McCampbell once declared as he likened the camera to “Lotto or casino type operations.”

“That intersection is a guaranteed amount of money,” McCampbell boasted to an Illinois Municipal League seminar in a 2007 presentation that was recorded and posted on YouTube. “… It just keeps popping.”

The reason is simple: The camera guards an entrance path to the Eisenhower Expressway and snaps away as cars and trucks make rolling right turns on red with astounding frequency.

The city insists that the cameras are for safety, but their actions don’t seem consistent with that view:

In his municipal league talk, McCampbell said he and other Bellwood officials lobbied for the new law. He said the driving force was the deaths of four people in a July 2005 crash that involved red light running at Mannheim Road and Madison Street.

Bellwood has eight traffic cameras, but none at that intersection.

Mr. McCampbell makes no attempt to hide his city’s intentions:

In an interview, McCampbell said Bellwood uses fine revenue from traffic cameras to underwrite the costs of police video surveillance equipment that watches the town of 20,000. The biggest financial contributor is the 25th and Harrison camera.

But that’s not the only reason why Bellwood officials value that particular camera, McCampbell admitted. He said 90 percent of violators it catches don’t live in Bellwood and are headed to the expressway.

“To be very crass, they are less likely to return and complain about it,” he said.

Even the minority of drivers, who decide to fight their ticket, have to contend with policies designed to discourage them.

The Herald has the story of a woman who went through the process. She had to pay $140 simply to get her case heard by an actual judge.


The Tribune did some excellent investigative reporting on how this scam got its start in the Illinois suburbs.

Here’s the overview via excerpts from the Tribune’s article:

1) There was an accident at a railroad crossing which caught the attention of the media and legislature.

On Thanksgiving eve in 2005, a Metra express train plowed into five cars at the busy Grand Avenue crossing in west suburban Elmwood Park, leaving behind piles of twisted metal, 16 injured people and a golden, moneymaking opportunity for the politically connected.

State lawmakers were quick to propose a crackdown on drivers who swerve around lowered crossing gates.

2) RedSpeed, a ticket camera manufacturer, used the tragedy to get a foothold in the US market.

Moving with a lightning speed befitting its name, a then-2-year-old British traffic camera-maker called RedSpeed latched onto savvy Illinois political insiders and came to dominate Chicago’s lucrative suburban market even though it had never before operated in the U.S.

So aggressive was the push that one suburban police chief recommended that his town hire RedSpeed a week before it was even incorporated in Illinois. […]

The ownership of RedSpeed is obscured in public records, but the firm is part of a closely held Israeli-owned conglomerate that does most of its business in Kazakhstan, the former Soviet Republic that Americans perhaps know best — maybe unfairly — from the mockumentary “Borat.”

There are other curiosities. RedSpeed’s sole U.S. operation is in west suburban Lombard, and it markets itself as the only Illinois-based firm in the highly technical red-light camera business. Yet the corporate structure is topped by a holding company whose CEO lives in Staten Island, N.Y., and works in the office of a Manhattan ophthalmologist.

3) RedSpeed gets the jump on other ticket camera companies by quickly signing up a core group of suburbs with the help of well-connected lobbyists and public officials.

Company officials boast that they have lined up contracts with more than 50 Illinois municipalities — more than all competitors combined. RedSpeed got a jump-start by quickly signing up a core group of suburbs — among them Bellwood, Berwyn, Bolingbrook, Elmwood Park, Melrose Park and Rosemont — with ties to a close network of clout-heavy lobbyists and former public officials.

The company’s sales director is Greg Zito, a former state senator from Melrose Park who also is a longtime Illinois lobbyist for British banking and credit card giant HSBC and the local loan giant it bought, Household International. Those two firms have long been a major source of campaign cash for the red-light legislation’s chief sponsor, state Rep. Angelo “Skip” Saviano (R-Elmwood Park).

RedSpeed also has become something of a gathering spot for associates of Zito and his longtime friend Al Ronan, another former Illinois lawmaker and a lobbyist for RedSpeed since 2007. Ronan — who lobbied for the red-light camera legislation on behalf of Melrose Park — was a name partner in a lobbying firm that pleaded guilty to federal bid-rigging charges in 2004, though Ronan personally was not charged. He also was a major fundraiser for both former Govs. George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich.

According to minutes of meetings in several municipalities, the sales force pitching RedSpeed in Illinois has included Scott Okun, who once ran the Illinois Toll Highway Authority’s I-Pass program but quit after being suspended in 2006 amid questions about a printing contract. Ronan’s name appeared as political sponsor for Okun on a 2003 list of state job-seekers kept by Blagojevich’s office. Another past Ronan political operative from Berwyn also has served as a RedSpeed salesman, according to village board minutes and interviews.

4) Legislation to prevent railroad crossing crashes is transformed into a law authorizing red-light cameras.

As first introduced, Saviano’s legislation addressed the kind of dangerous situation that may have contributed to the Elmwood Park Metra collision. It would have allowed the use of enforcement cameras to catch drivers who swerved around lowered railroad crossing gates.

On the House floor, Saviano had the bill rewritten to authorize red-light cameras. Another version of the bill was pushed on a parallel track by now-Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), though it was the Saviano measure that became law.

Considerable lobbying heat lined up behind the concept in addition to Ronan. Redflex lobbyists pushed for suburban cameras. Bellwood dispatched at least five emissaries, legislative records show, including two who have had a long history of doing lobbying work with Ronan. Bellwood’s efforts paid off handsomely: The suburb netted more than $1.1 million in red-light camera revenue last year.

5) RedSpeed, through intermediaries, thanks Bellwood for its help in extracting money from drivers.

It’s hardly unusual for financial firms in Illinois to help bankroll campaigns, and records show that Zito’s HSBC has given away nearly $1.3 million in political donations over the last 15 years.

But one of the smallest gifts stands out.

On April 3, 2006, HSBC gave $500 to the political organization of Frank Pasquale, the mayor of Bellwood, which was soon to become RedSpeed’s first customer. The banking giant had never before written Pasquale’s campaign a check and has never done so since, state records show.

April 3 was the day the General Assembly gave final approval for Saviano’s red-light camera bill, a development that opened the suburban market to camera vendors like RedSpeed.

Zito said the timing of the gift was “purely coincidental” and “occurred well before RedSpeed-Illinois’ existence, either conceptually or officially.”

Thanks to the stories by the Herald and Tribune, legislators are feeling the public pressure on this issue and are considering reforming the red-light camera laws.

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21 Responses to “Illinois Red Light Cameras: Anatomy Of A Scam”

  1. PointSpecial says:

    I've been following this coverage very closely and it has, indeed, been great investagative journalism. I was paying extra special attention because I saw a telltale *flash* at a Chicago intersection while waiting to make a left hand turn in an intersection without a turn arrow. I haven't gotten a ticket yet and will absolutely fight if I do. As stated in the Illinois "Rules of the Road," if you enter an intersection on green when making a left hand turn, you can complete your turn after the light turns red, when the intersection is clear. This seems to be a no-brainer… but knowing the financial woes of Chicago, I fully have anticipated getting a love letter from some of Mayor Daley's cronies.

    I actually live across the street from a North Shore community (Highland Park, IL) that plans to install two redlight cameras at intersections very near my home. The road (US 41) is confusing and needs to be both widened to handle the volume of traffic and reengineered to improve sight lines. There *may* be issues with red lights being run here… but these intersections are usually heavily congested due to the lights themselved (the Edens Expressway "ends" and becomes US 41, then cuts down from 6 lanes to 4 and goes from an expressway with highway interchanges to a major arterial with stop lights… back to the expressway after four or five stop lights. The state would do very well to expand this portion of road to the full 6 lanes at least through the first several stop lights, as the road gets backed up for at least a good mile during rush hour.

    • Randy says:

      I have driven around Chicago. If there is anywhere that needs some kind of enforcement of laws it is in the Chicago area. Complete idiot drivers. If you have to switch lanes to get on an off ramp you take your life in someone elses hands.

    • Jef with one F says:

      Look this whole thing is a scam!!! If the results are showing that between 64% TO 100% of violations are right on red and since the Dept of Transportation says that right on red fatalities are less then .08 percent, and that you could drive a BILLION miles and never be involved in right on red accident! hey numbers do not lie!!! This is a cash cow scam so all the pols can line thier pockets and some private firm with ZERO ties to the US get s to stomp all over my rights to due process! we clean up the political insiders and then we might make some headway. As long as corporations run this country it will be more of the same. We do not live in a country of laws but in a system and the SYSTEM SUCKS!!!!!

  2. PointSpecial says:


    How on earth are red light cameras going to do anything to that one Chicago driver who cut you off 10 years ago that you still hold a grudge against?

    If you've been around Chicago lately, it really isn't that difficult to change lanes… you just turn your turn signal on and wait for the heavy congestion between yourself and the off ramp to let you through.

    I would suggest in the future that you get over to the right far before your exit if you can't hang with the rest of the drivers the next time you come to our fine city.

    • Randy says:

      PointSpecial I guess you do not do much driving in Chicago. Many exits are on the left. I guess you do not drive in Chicago because there are many idiot drivers out there and not just one. It goes along with some feeling they can drive 25 mph or more over the limit so turning your turn signal on does very little when they some try to fly by. 55 mph is not that big a deal. It often saves a lot of time if everyone went that speed but instead they try to drive 80 and slam on the breaks and try to go 80 again. A steady slower speed often gets you there faster in heavy traffic.

  3. JJ says:

    Everything in Illinois that is traffic related is a scam. Just look at those silly 55mph speed limits there.

  4. PointSpecial says:

    Randy, I live in Chicago, I always drive here. As far as exits on the left, those are on the Eisenhower (in a section dubbed the "Avenues") and do have one of the highest accident rates in the region… because the deceleration and acceleration lanes are not up to current Interstate standards. This is more a product of, shall we say, old engineering. It worked fine in the 50's… but newer and better ideas about how highways should be built have come around in the last 50 years… And actually, they've been studying this stretch of road for 10-15 years to try to figure out a way to fix them… but they don't have much room to expand (the land around the Ike is all taken up and has been since it was built in early 50's. Heck, they plowed right through existing neighborhoods to build it.

    There are left hand entrances on the Kennedy from the Circle interchange to Hubbard's Cave. Those are actually being worked on currently… Chicago removed two of the on ramps in 2005 at Washington and Monroe and they're currently reconfiguring the other on ramps to utilize the space gained by getting rid of the two ramps. This will double the amount of space for an acceleration lane and should immensely help safety, though the area is still not up to current standards due to the fact that the left lane entrance ramps exist.

    It absolutely does take more skill when navigating an obstacle that you aren't used to…

    And concerning the speed limit… if you're comfortable with traveling 55 then you should. Many are comfortable with higher speeds. If you aren't, then I suggest moving over to the right and letting the rest of us pass.

    I still don't see what this has to do with red light cameras.

    • Randy says:

      PointSpecial we agree to disagree. If you feel comfortable going 80 mph plus right next to people trying to pull into your lane to enter or exit when the speed limit is 55 mph then I feel you are an idiot. Your type are the ones that need a to save a couple of minutes each day and at the same time you or someone like you cause an accident causing everyone to stop for extended periods of time and even kill others. You say yourself that it is not safe with the roads that are there but keep doing what you do and just blame others.

    • Randy says:

      PointSpecial to answer your question about why this all has to do with red light cameras is the same reason that I brought up about speeding. It is all about people like you being above the law and no one or no thing should stand in your way. You want to save time because nothing should delay you. That is the mentality of the red light runner. Why should you have to stop when it has only been red for a couple of seconds before you enter an intersection. It saves you a couple of minutes to run it so why would the laws get in your way. You usually do not hit anyone when you run it. When you do though you have many videos on utube that show the consequences. There are also examples of people running the red lights and having near miss accidents.

  5. Rose says:

    Right lane camera signs need to be posted on the poles entering that right lane notifying drivers to stop or else! No sign no ticket.

  6. Two Buck Tim says:

    I have discovered that the required signs for the red light cameras in the Village of Bellwood do NOT meet the Illinois Department of Transportation minimum size requirements.

    I am going to publish this information on as many blogs as possible. It is a sure fire defense against the ticket.

    I wonder is a class action suit is possible?

  7. DM says:

    The village of Roselle is another place that should be under investagation. They have Red light cameras at Gary & Army Trail Rd. Earlier in the year I contested the ticket, it shows clearly that I "at the very least paused" the intersection was clear and made a right turn on red. There website to view was not working even when downloading the updated player. There is no time duration for a stop on Red in Illinois. I contested while I was contesting…..which they denied….they raised the ticket to $200. I lost the contest, "my guess is the overseer did not even view the evidence…they just rubberstamp for the money. Lets face it this is a tax. I paid the $100. They are still pursuing the the remaining $100. To all you politicians and council people who have stupidly voted for this I plan on voting you out of office for your greed and stupidity. And by the way, I wonder how many of you received tickets and actually paid them?

  8. Alex says:

    I am so glad that I found this website as I just received a ticket from this location ((25th Avenue & Harrison Street) for $100 dollars.
    I was going to fight it as the traffic light does not have any signs that indicates “NO RIGHT TURN ON RED" or any other sign.
    I made my stop at the light when it was red and then I proceeded to turn right to get on to the highway and in about 3 days I received the ticket indicating that I had run over a red light.
    This violation creates a big impact on my life as my company cut my work hours by ½, I already bring lunch to work to reduce my lunch expense and my car will need gas to get me from & to work. I will drive scare every time I see a red light and I don’t want to take any more money away from my very low paycheck. I will only move when the green light comes on even if cars behind me hunk the horn. I want to apologize right now if you are one of the people that are frustrated with me because I will not make a turn on a red light.
    I would have to say that after reading the information on this website, I feel helpless. I hope that Roy McCampbell sleeps well at night knowing that he is taking money from hard working Americans to stay above this tuff economy to pay for the police video surveillance equipment.

  9. Bob says:

    This is a message to all police officers. I just received a ticket from a Red light camera for a rolling stop. As supported in the article above, the ticket is erroneous. So to the police, you have just created one more enemy. If you ever need my help in solving a crime, I will laugh in your face, along with everyone else who has received these erroneous tickets. Someday you will get the message that you need us as your friend, more than you need the cash cow of red light cameras. I don't need you, I can protect myself.

  10. nofair says:

    Does anyone know if there is a "no turn on red" sign at Lake St and Barrington Rd in Hanover Park? I got a ticket there on a Saturday morning last month for making a right turn on a presumably red light. I do not recall there being a warning sign. Only a sign on the very, very far pole saying it was camera monitored. It is very unfair; I don't have the extra $100 to fork over, and only discovered this ticket in my stack of mail a few days before it is due (tomorrow!) How to contest this due to financial hardship? I was on my way to my volunteer job that morning, to take the train into the city. I am a very safe driver but still get fined for giving up my time and talents to the city!

    • Frustrated says:

      First of all I completely agree with you. And no there is no "sign" at that intersection. There isn't a sign posted at almost all of the inersections. Thats the scam. That was what my arguement was. I had to ask around at work because when I received the violations in the mail I honestly had know idea what I did wrong. One of my fellow employees happened to see the news the night before and told me what I did wrong. I wish I had of known. I have $400 worth of violations because I use the same intersection everyday to go to work and I didn't realize I was "breaking the law" by making a right turn. And yes I received them all at once in the mail. I thought they were duplicates , but no such luck. I tried to contest and they still deemed me liable and by the time I'm able to pay these it doubles for being late. $200 times 4 ugggh. VERY FRUSTRATED!!!

    • jamesk9182 says:

      Time to fight back. DO NOT TURN ON RED!!! STAY STOPPED UNTIL GREEN. It makes people nuts. Cop asked me why I didn"t turn right on red and I asked him if I had to. It backs traffic up and drives people crazy BUT YOU WON"T GET A TICKET. SCREW THE RED LIGHT VILLAGES!!!!!

  11. nicole2hot78 says:

    Did you know about this…….DaGoatSpanka writes with news that Mississippi Governer Haley Barbour signed a bill into law on Friday which instituted a ban on automated cameras that would snap pictures of motorists when they ran red lights. "The new law says the two cities that already have the cameras, Jackson and Columbus, must take them down by Oct. 1. Other cities and counties are banned from starting to use them." We've discussed situations in the past where cities looked at such cameras as "profit centers," and even tampered with their traffic light timing to catch more motorists. Now, in Mississippi, the contractors who installed the cameras are unhappy, since they received a cut of the ticket revenue generated by the cameras. However, lawmakers overwhelming voted to get rid of them (117-3 in the House, 42-9 in the Senate), because "the cameras were an invasion of privacy and their constituents thought they had been unfairly ticketed."

  12. MGI says:

    I recently moved to Chicago from Pennsylvania. There the right turns on red light, after pause and verification of no incoming traffic in the lane where the driver turns right, are legally authorized in the code of driving.

    I was in the Lockport area, at the red light of Farrel Rd. and 159th Street. No sign are posted for camera installed, or "NO RIGHT TURN AT RED LIGHT". I felt safe to turn right, on 159th Street cars were still, except the left turn ones. There were no cars coming into my right lane.
    I received a $100 fine for turning on red.

    I was stunned, but is one more proof for me of how twisted is " legality"in Illinois!!!!!!
    For the officer on the red light camera sit, you might get a raise for all the possible fines you can bring in.

  13. […] Originally Posted by ATLTJL It was a camera that issued the ticket, I was never pulled over. I was shocked to receive it in the mail, because I never ran a red light. These tickets are issued to people who do not come to complete stops at red lights before making a right turn, which I didn't do because the lane looked like one of those "keep moving" lanes we have here where all you are supposed to do is yield to oncoming traffic, of which there was none. … They prey on out of towners who don't know the complete stop on red even when you are in what appears to be a keep moving lane rule. It seems you are correct: Illinois Red Light Cameras: Anatomy Of A Scam […]