Red-light cameras generated nearly $67 million last year for dozens of Chicago suburbs and the companies that operate the controversial devices, according to an investigation by Chicago media outlets.
The Chicago Sun-Times and television stations WLS-TV gathered records from suburban governments throughout the region, determining that the nearly 90 Chicago suburbs that have red-light cameras send out more than 770,000 tickets a year. The analysis found that less than 5 percent of drivers contest such tickets.
From the 10 suburbs with the highest revenue totals, nine have contracts with Chicago-based SafeSpeed LLC. Records show the communities of Berwyn, Melrose Park and Hillside benefited most financially from the cameras.
Chris Lai, SafeSpeed’s chief operating officer, declined to say how much money the company makes. But he said the company differentiates itself with its “dedication to making sure we capture every violation.”
“We’ve very proud of what we do,” Lai said.
Some ticketed drivers said the cameras aren’t always accurate and evidence can back-up drivers who say they’ve made complete stops. Among those drivers was Jen Donahoo, who successfully contested a ticket she received because of a red-light camera while driving in Melrose Park. She said she thinks the cameras are all about revenue.
“They’re hoping people won’t contest and will just pay the ticket,” Donahoo said.
Lai said dismissed cases due to mistakes by his company are rare.
Records analyzed by the newspaper and WLS-TV shows the suburban red-light revenue total from 2014 to 2016 was nearly $170 million.
“There’s no doubt that these red-light cameras do raise revenue,” Anthony Bertuca, an attorney for Berwyn. “But the main thing (officials) are concerns about is safety.
Bertuca said about 95 percent of the cases he sees in traffic court involve drivers who receive tickets for making illegal right turns at a red light.