Longtime readers may recall The Scrapbook’s fixation on red-light cameras, which represent a perfect case of nanny-statedom. They are a technological innovation designed to create government revenue under the rubric of “safety.” Yet they fail at every level: Across the country, they have been foisted on the citizenry not by elected officials (at least not directly), but by bureaucrats. Studies have shown that the cameras do not produce any real gains in safety; some studies suggest they actually make intersections more accident-prone, with drivers more frequently slamming on the brakes and getting rear-ended.
And in many cases, the terms of the “public-private partnerships” between government entities and the two big, multinational companies that administer red-light camera systems are so lopsided that the governments take home very little revenue.
What makes red-light cameras unique in modern America, however, is that they’re the lone advance of the nanny state that is being successfully resisted and turned back. Townships and cities across the country have spent the last 10 years trying to get out of the red-light camera business. Sometimes they’ve gone so far as to sue the red-light camera companies.
The latest such lawsuit involves the city of Chicago suing Redflex Traffic Systems, the Australian company that is the largest administrator of red-light cameras in the world.
Chicago created a partnership with Redflex to bring red-light cameras to the city in 2003. The people of Chicago hated the cameras, and the system has been plagued with problems: In 2014, an investigative report in the Chicago Tribune discovered that Redflex had issued 13,000 faulty citations to Chicagoans in a single 10-month period.
And then there were the ethical problems. In June, Karen Finley, the former CEO of Redflex, who resigned her post in 2013, pleaded guilty to a slew of bribery charges in federal court: It seems that one of the ways the red-light cameras had managed to worm their way into municipalities was by outright bribery and fraud.
Which is where Chicago’s latest suit comes in. It alleges that Redflex got its contract by paying $2 million in kickbacks to the city’s Department of Transportation manager. The suit seeks $300 million in damages from Redflex. If the city is lucky, Redflex will be forced to pay.
If the people of Chicago are lucky, the city will finally take down its cameras.