CHICAGO (CBS) — The CBS 2 Investigators discovered another problem with the city’s new speeding ticket rules.
Those rules ticket drivers going as little as 6 miles per hour over the speed limit. Under city rules, people caught speeding for the first time should receive a warning.
But CBS 2 Investigator Dorothy Tucker discovered those warnings are often too little too late.
Nick Lucero rode a Divvy bike to his interview with CBS 2. In fact, he pedals many places nowadays.
“I come through here twice in the morning,” said Lucero.
He bikes instead of driving because, he said, “I just don’t want to get any more tickets.” He received four between March 20 and May 2 – most were those new $35 tickets.
Lucero’s usual route runs along Ashland Avenue, near Lake Street and alongside Union Park.
He admits, “There’s evidence I was speeding.” He doesn’t dispute that. But when he got caught on March 12, that was his first time being captured by any speed camera anywhere in the city.
He was going 36 mph on Ashland Avenue, where the speed limit is 30 mph.
“The flow of traffic is often more than 30,” said Lucero.
But since this incident was his first time being caught, it was just a warning. There was no charge. The warning is a reminder for drivers to slow down and protect children, reduce accidents, and save lives.
But there’s one big problem for drivers like Lucero.
“I received the warning two months after the actual incidents [violations]. So there was no time for me to correct my behavior,” he said.
Late Warning Notices
Lucero is not the only driver who got late warning notices.
“I’m extremely angry,” said Angelisa Winding. She first got caught speeding on 75th Street near Jeffery Boulevard in South Shore on March 12 – coincidentally the same day as Lucero. Before that warning was sent to her, she raked up a total of 15 speeding violations. Most of hers were also those new $35 tickets.
“What’s the sense of sending a warning if you’re not warning people in enough time?” she said.
There’s nothing new about issuing warning tickets. The city has been doing that ever since speed cameras first lined city streets. But the number of warnings issued to first-time speeders skyrocketed after March 1. That was when the city reset those cameras, now flashing and fining drivers going between 6 mph and 10 mph over the speed limit.
Before that, fines were issued starting at 10 mph over the limit.
The CBS 2 Investigators asked for records of how many warnings and tickets have been issued since March 1. Records the Chicago Department of Finance provided us show nearly 320,000 drivers got issued warning notices. What that data didn’t reveal is when those notices were mailed.
The city ordinance says the warnings have to be mailed “…within 30 days” after receiving owner verification from the Illinois Secretary of State. When we asked the city about timing from the date of the incident to the warning mailing date – a city spokeswoman said it can take “4 to 6 weeks”. That’s up to 42 days.
Let’s look at Winding’s timeline. The speeding incident that triggered her warning happened on March 12. But her notice wasn’t mailed until May 14. In her case, it took 64 days until the notice was sent to her.
Lucero had the same exact gap.
“If the government’s intention is to issue a warning to correct behavior before it becomes punitive then they’ve failed in that intention because the warning didn’t come for months after the incident,” Lucero said.
More than a hundred viewers contacted us after our first investigation into the city’s new speeding rules. Many voiced the same complaint as Winding and Lucero – the date cited, and date mailed for their warning notices, equaled a long wait.
The longest we found was the camera catching the driver speeding on March 31, but the city not mailing the notice until June 11 – 103 days in between.
Why The Delay?
Why does it take the city so long to issue warning notices that drivers desperately want? We visited the Department of Finance to get answers. After being promised the spokeswoman would be “right with you,” we waited 13 minutes without anyone coming out to speak. We left without answers.
That lack of response comes on the heels of an email exchange that left us scratching our heads and asking the same question – what’s the deal with the delay?
“I’m not getting the tickets for two months,” said Winding. “I think that’s a way for the city to get money.”
And the city is potentially raking in the cash. The data we got from the city show how many tickets are being issued by each camera and how much the city is fining drivers.
Comparing the March 1 through May 27 time period for all years 2016 through 2021, the total dollar amount of fines has varied. But it’s never been as high as this year – $26.5 million in less than three months.
The previous high mark was $13.3 million in 2016.
Lucero got fined a total of $205. Winding got fined $708.
“It hurts a lot because I’m not working,” Winding said. “I don’t have a job, so that hurts a lot.”
Both are convinced they wouldn’t owe as much money if they’d just gotten their warning notices sooner.
Solution To Speed Up Warnings
Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) supports speed cameras. He says speed zone warning signs are clearly visible.
“That sign up there warns you. It says what the speed is. You just have to slow down. That’s the bottom line,” he said.
But even Ald. Waguespack acknowledges the sudden surge in speeding tickets.
“The city has to make sure they go out,” he said. “If you want safety to be a priority and you can get that notice out faster, then do it.”
He is open to considering changes in city law to speed up the process of sending out warning notices.
“I think that’s something we’d have to look at. Can you get it to 15 to 20 days so you’re providing people with notice the first time in a correct way instead of potentially raking up tickets?” Waguespack said.
He promises to meet with the Department of Finance on this issue.
In the meantime, Winding hopes to get on a payment plan with the city and Lucero plans to bike as long as Chicago weather permits.
We heard from some drivers who tried to get their tickets dismissed, arguing the warning notices arrived well after 30 days. So far, they’ve been unsuccessful.