By CBS 2 Chicago Staff

By Dorothy Tucker and Carol Thompson

CHICAGO (CBS) — Illinois is one of a few states with speed cameras. Illinois allows them to be used in construction or maintenance zones with workers present, and in Children’s Safety Zones, but only in cities with a population of one million or more. Guess what? That’s only Chicago. Chicago has taken advantage of that by placing cameras near schools when children are present and near parks during park hours.

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Only 18 other states have said yes to speed cameras, according to the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA), which keeps tabs on traffic safety and regulations. Chicago is one of 161 municipalities across the country with ordinances on the books allowing speed cameras, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Sounds like a lot until you check with the U.S. Census Bureau and find there are almost 90,000 local governments nationwide. Again, Chicago is in the minority.

Speed Camera Regulations Vary Nationwide

Speed camera regulations are not uniform. Most states and municipalities allow them either in road construction work zones or in school zones or both, like in Illinois. But that’s where the consistency stops. For example, four states (Arkansas, Colorado, Oregon, Utah) require that a police officer actually writes the citation or a government employee be present at the speed camera location to verify that the camera-issued citation is correct.

Among major cities with speed cameras, we found huge variations in speeds that trigger a citation and the fine amount. For example, in Mesa, Arizona and New Orleans, Louisiana going as little as 1 mph over the limit can trigger a ticket. If you’re caught speeding in Mesa, fines range from $262 to $534.25, depending on how fast you were going. Fines in New Orleans are much lower ranging from $75 to $135 depending on speed.

Chicago’s New Speed Camera Law

In Chicago, a change that took effect on March 1, 2021 triggers a ticket if a vehicle is going as little as 6 mph over the speed limit. Thousands of tickets, many of them first warnings, have been issued in the first few weeks after the switch. Tickets for going 6-10 mph over the limit generate a $35 ticket, a relative bargain compared to both Mesa and New Orleans.

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Another difference, where the cameras can be placed and the hours they operate. Chicago puts many cameras within 1/8 of a mile of a school or park. In some cases, the park cannot be seen from the street with the cameras. In Denver, mobile speed camera vans are used, and if they’re set up at a park it has to be on a street bordering the park.

In other cities, school zone speed cameras are limited to specific hours as children go to and leave school and/or when school zone signals are flashing. In Chicago, the posted school zone limit signs say “When children are present.”

9th Ward Alderman Anthony Beale has two speed camera zones in his ward. He’s concerned about the financial toll the new $35 tickets will take on his constituents: “What you see is people getting these tickets going and coming from work every single day. Going to the grocery store every single day. Dropping their kids off at daycare every single day. Those are the hard-working people that are getting these tickets. People who are just trying to survive and trying to get by.”

Possible Solution?

Several states are considering legislation to allow speed cameras. One of those is California, where legislators are trying to pass AB 550, introduced by Assemblymember David Chiu. The bill would allow speed cams in sensitive areas around vulnerable populations such as senior centers, schools, or roads with documented incidents of deaths and speeding.

The California legislation also includes several diversion options to address the financial toll on people who cannot afford the fines. “We have grappled with the issue of income equity,” said Assemblymember Chiu. As a result, the bill includes three diversion options: 1) reduce fines by up to 80% for low-income families; 2) offer community service in lieu of paying a fine; and 3) cap monthly payments at $25. The bill stalled in this legislative session, but will be reintroduced. It might prove to be a solutions consideration for Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot who ran on a campaign promise to “…make sure that we’re not continuing to balance the budget on the backs of people who are least able to handle it.”

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Did you get a ticket from a Chicago speed camera after March 1? We want to hear from you.

Email investigative producer Carol Thompson at cjthompson@cbs.com, call us at 312-899-2250, or get in touch using the form below.

CBS 2 Chicago Staff