When will Chicago Learn its Lesson on Automated Ticket Cameras?

Late last month, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced that she plans to ramp up speed camera ticketing so the city can undoubtedly help close its enormous budget loophole. She has decided that speed cameras will begin ticketing motorists going six miles or over the speed limit instead of the usual ten.  The mayor, of course, had campaigned on ending the city’s reliance on automated ticketing to balance the budget. Once again, a politician in office reverses course after realizing that policing for profit.


Credit: John Picken

Lightfoot did exclusive interviews in more than one Chicago media outlet. She declared in all of them that “it’s clearly a public safety issue.” This sentiment has been heard repeatedly from politicians’ mouths when they want to make money from taxing motorists via citation.  Many reporters and editorialists cried that this proposal is a cash grab meant to hurt lower-income Chicago motorists.

Even the most anti-car, Big Bike groups out there, Chicago Streetsblog and Active Transportation Alliance spoke out against implementing the measure during the COVID-19 crisis. Active Transportation Alliance spokesperson Kyle Whitehead wrote on Streetsblog:

“Black and brown Chicagoans are already struggling with the inequitable burdens of COVID. City officials should focus on policy changes that lessen that burden and avoid making it worse. We encourage city officials to delay implementing changes to the ticketing threshold until the equity impacts are understood and addressed.”

Whitehead also offered up three changes to Chicago’s speed and red-light camera programs.

  1. Camera revenue should be used to support comprehensive traffic safety strategies to prevent crashes and save lives (particularly on the west and south sides of the city).
  2. Implement sliding scale fines for lower-income drivers or provide alternatives to payments such as traffic school or restorative justice programs.
  3. Study the racial equity impacts of photo enforcement in Chicago.

Here’s another policy to implement for Chicago that would not only bring equity to all and not violate constitutional rights: Get rid of red-light and speed cameras entirely.

Not only are automated tickets punitive to all drivers, but they are also almost impossible to fight in court and motorists are unable to use their constitutional right to due process.

Not only that, Chicago and state politicians and other officials have been charged in various corruption scandals throughout the years. The latest red-light camera scandal started late last year and has already taken down some of the state’s top lawmakers. Automated camera companies are also generous campaign donors.

Let’s face it—the city of Chicago also does not handle tickets well, is frequently sued, and has to pay back millions to drivers for the irregularities.

The best thing for everyone is to get rid of the things and figure out better alternatives to balancing the city of Chicago’s budget.

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