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Will Speed Cameras Make Chicago Streets Safer?

Will Speed Cameras Affect Safety? If early results are any indication, Chicago’s new speed camera program will result in safer streets by deterring motorists from speeding, especially in school zones.  In the first month after the city rolled out the Automated Speed Enforcement (ASE) program in August 2013, it reported a 65 percent reduction in drivers speeding more than 10 miles over the speed limit.

Annually, about 3,000 crashes occur in Chicago involving motor vehicles and pedestrians, and 800 involve children.  A car traveling the school-zone speed limit of 20 mph is far less likely to cause a fatality than a car exceeding 40 mph, according to the Federal Highway Administration. Last year, the city’s department of transportation strategically placed 50 cameras within a short proximity to schools and parks throughout the city, with locations chosen based on accident and speeding data.  The ASE system uses a 3-D tracking radar that identifies any vehicle traveling faster than the posted speed limit, which triggers a high-resolution digital camera and high-definition video camera, which record the violation and the vehicle’s license tags.

According to the city’s website, the program’s rollout was designed to help motorists adjust to the new system by issuing only warnings and not tickets upon the first violation, and erecting signs warning drivers they are approaching ASE zones about 600 feet in advance of the cameras. Fines for violations are $35 for vehicles traveling 6-10 miles per hour over the posted speed limit, and $100 for vehicles traveling 11 or more miles over the speed limit.

Early Results From Traffic Camera Promising

The Chicago Sun-Times reported that at the end of the program’s first full month of enforcement, more than 2,700 tickets and 324,000 warning notices were issued to drivers caught speeding on camera, with very few subsequent repeat violations. Other cities such as Washington, D.C., that have implemented automated speed enforcement have reduced speeding up to 90 percent and crashes by up to 50 percent.

It remains to be seen whether the new enforcement program will face court challenges as the controversial red-light camera programs have. Also, some drivers are already trying to evade the system by using technology that distorts their license plates or that detects cameras. It will probably be up to a year before it can be known with certainty whether the program will have a long-term, measurable effect on traffic safety in Chicago.