Rahm offers 1.5M motorists chance to contest red-light and speed-camera tickets

A city program built on bribery got another black eye Sept. 12, as Chicago City Council’s Finance Committee approved Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to head off a major lawsuit that could cost the city $200 million in ticket refunds, according to the Chicago Tribune.

In February, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy ruled city officials had acted against “fundamental principles of justice, equity and good conscience” by failing to give ticketed motorists a second notice of their violations, as required by the city’s own rules. The tickets in question came in most part from the city’s red-light-camera program, and to a lesser extent from speed cameras.

Kennedy also said the city violated its own rules by slapping motorists with $100 late fees only 21 days after the city determined liability, rather than the 25 days required by law.

Emanuel’s plan would give motorists ticketed between March 23, 2010, and May 14, 2015, the second notice they never received. They will then have the chance to challenge their tickets and will need to prove their tickets were issued in error. At least one administrative law judge has been vocal about throwing out a vast majority of red-light-camera tickets brought before him.

“I’ve been calling up a lot of tickets where the amber times are 2.9 (seconds),” Robert A. Sussman, an administrative law judge, told the Tribune. “That’s what I said on the record and I stand by that.”

Sussman was referring to the fact that the city was shortening yellow-light times below national standards, generating millions more dollars in ticket revenue than the cameras would have otherwise.

City officials maintain the program is about safety, not money.

But an audit by the city’s inspector general found no evidence the city used safety data in deciding where to place the more than 300 cameras. And a Tribune study found the while the cameras reduced T-bone crashes by 15 percent, rear-end crashes resulting in injuries were up more than 20 percent. In short, they do very little to protect drivers.

Chicago’s red-light program is the largest in the nation. But city leaders have proven grossly incapable of managing these cameras fairly and effectively.

Turn them off, tear them down and come up with better ways of protecting city motorists.

Longer “all red” times is one solution. Increasing yellow-light times is another.

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