A Chicago pol wants you to run more red lights

An alderman says that a new device to alert drivers to red-light cameras will hurt Chicago's revenues.

By Farhad Manjoo

Published June 22, 2007 4:45PM (EDT)

A Chicago alderman is looking to ban a new device that alerts drivers when they're approaching red-light cameras. His argument: The city needs money from people who speed through red lights. That's right -- in order to keep Chicago rolling in cash, greedy alderman Edward Burke would prefer that drivers run red lights, possibly injuring themselves or others. As he sees it, any device that "subverts" that pleasant, cash-generating scenario ought to be outlawed.

The device in question is the Cobra XRS R9G, a traditional radar detector that also tracks the location of red-light cameras through GPS. The unit sells for $439, and Cobra will also offer it to manufacturers for preinstallation in new cars.

Burke, though, thinks that anyone who uses such a system is undermining Chicago's fiscal future. The city has installed red-light cameras at 39 dangerous intersections, and plans to have 70 working by the end of the year. As drivers approach these hot spots, signs warn them that a camera is watching their every move. Still, more than a few numbskulls inevitably pass through, winning a $90 fine -- which contributed to almost $20 million in cash for the city last year.

Chicago's Mayor Richard Daley -- like every other sane politician who advocates installing red-light cameras -- insists that the cameras' primary purpose is safety. Indeed, an early test of the system showed that accidents fell by 23 percent after cameras were installed at dangerous intersections. But Burke -- who says that two other aldermen, Isaac Carothers and Thomas Allen, will join him in pushing the ban -- put the lie to the safety-first agenda. Red-light violation money "is budgeted in our annual appropriation ordinance," he said, according to the Chicago Tribune. "That is why all these cameras are being installed. The reality is that people blow through these intersections and they are going to be caught and they are going to be fined. It has become a big revenue source, absolutely." He added: "I don't think the [city's] goal is to allow the motorist to subvert the system that we are spending so much money on."

Got that? The "reality" is that people are going to blow through intersections. Sure, a device that warns people of an upcoming red-light camera could change that "reality" by forcing speedy drivers to obey the law. And, true, everyone says that forcing people to heed the lights is the very point of installing red-light cameras.

But not really. If drivers obey the rules, you can't fine them. And if you can't fine people, what's the point of being an alderman?

[Via the Chicago Tribune.]

Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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