How fast is a tenth of a second? For Olympic sprinters, it can be the difference between a gold medal and not placing at all. For Chicago drivers, it's the difference between getting a ticket and not getting a ticket. In Chicago, a tenth of a second equals 77,000 new tickets and $8 million in the city coffers.
The Chicago Tribune did an in-depth investigation into automated traffic camera tickets and learned some pretty troubling information. But first, you need to know that federal traffic safety law regulates the length of yellow lights to a minimum of three seconds long. Try counting next time you see one.
But in Chicago, for months the length of yellow lights was 2.9 seconds. That measly 0.1 second racked up $8 million in extra tickets from automated traffic cameras. Here's how the Tribune reported it:
The Tribune reported Thursday that its analysis of overturned tickets and interviews with experts suggested the Emanuel administration had made a subtle, but significant, change when it switched camera vendors this spring from the beleaguered Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. to Xerox State and Local Solutions. Hearing officers were suddenly throwing out hundreds of tickets that showed yellow light times at 2.9, below the 3-second minimum required by the city.
An investigation by Inspector General Joseph Ferguson brought these changes to light, and since then, the lights have returned to their original length of 3.0 seconds. Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration has defended the charges and the changes, saying that the law allows for minuscule fluctuations in the energy grid. However, Mayor Emanuel has also said he's "mulling a refund."
If you ask me, traffic laws are in place to protect public safety, not to raise government revenues off of fines. This stinks of a cash grab. Automated law enforcement technology has been the center of controversy across the country. Traffic cameras and speed cameras have faced severe public backlash even as they raise millions of dollars of additional funds for state and local governments.
What do you think? Should we use automatic technology to nab lawbreakers? Or is it doing more harm than good? Make your voice heard by posting in the comments section below.