Chicago’s Red Light Cameras: Do They Curb Intersection Accidents?

Chicago's streets are home to almost 400 red light cameras that monitor 190 of the city's most dangerous intersections. The program began in 2003, when the city installed cameras at two intersections: 55th and Western, and Peterson and Western. Since then, the city has issued millions of violations-763,419 in 2010 alone-and made millions of dollars in revenue from the red light cameras.

The cameras are connected to the intersection's traffic lights. When the light turns red, any vehicle that passes under the sensor get its picture taken and is recorded on a video device. The rear of the vehicle and the license plate are recorded, and are used as proof of the violation when the owner of the vehicle receives his or her citation.

The city claims that the red light cameras reduce auto accidents at the intersections where they are installed, and a recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) supports this claim. The IIHS is a non-profit research organization funded by the insurance industry. It found that cameras saved 159 lives in the 14 biggest cities between 2004 and 2008. The red light cameras help reduce t-bone accidents, in which one vehicle hits another at a perpendicular angle. T-bone crash data is what the city of Chicago uses to determine placement of red light cameras.

Mayoral candidate Miguel del Valle initially supported red light cameras, but now feels that the city is abusing the system. He claims that rather than preventing accidents, the city is using the lights to generate revenue. Del Valle cites a recent study by University of Illinois professor Rajiv Shah, who recently studied 39 of Chicago's intersections. He found that rather than prevent accidents at the intersections he studied, red light camera intersections saw a six percent increase in auto accidents.

Red light cameras' effectiveness at preventing intersection accidents seems debatable, and will likely be the focus of politicians in the coming months. Regardless of the safety precautions taken by governments, intersections will always be relatively dangerous places since the safe crossing of an intersection requires lawfulness and awareness of all drivers. If an individual is involved in an accident involving another motorist at an intersection, he or she should contact an experienced personal injury attorney to explain what rights or liabilities may apply.