Most Chicago drivers have experienced the frustration of traffic or parking citations at least once. Certainly an even more frustrating reality, it has recently become apparent that many drivers may have been given citations for traffic crimes they did not actually commit.
A Chicago Tribune investigation published last month noted periods of suspiciously high numbers of red light camera traffic citations issued, suggesting some error with this system. The analysis looked at more than 4 million tickets issued since 2007 and found cases in which individual intersections saw sudden, dramatic spikes in ticket numbers, from just a few tickets a day to over 50. Traffic experts determined that there must have been some level of equipment malfunction or human tampering to cause such differences. If this is the case, there is no telling just how many of those tickets were fair or if the system continues to function properly.
This information has resulted in a great deal of criticism towards the red light camera system. It is difficult, after all, for citizens to trust such inconsistent data (even more so given last year's allegations of bribery and subsequent firing of Redflex Traffic Systems, who began the program in 2003). In response, Mayor Emanuel has announced that drivers who received tickets during unusual spikes will be given an opportunity to have their violation reviewed for a possible refund. City Hall is sending letters to at least 9,000 drivers to explain how they might receive the $100 refund; drivers will have 45 days to request that their violation be reviewed, then an outside auditor will determine whether a refund is in order within 30 days of the request.
In an e-mail response to Chicagoans concerned with the trustworthiness of the ticketing system, Mayor Emanuel's administration said that "if the still photos and/or video do not clearly prove the law was broken, drivers will receive a refund". Officials have not explicitly acknowledged the possibility that any tickets were issued improperly, but providing the opportunity for a refund suggests that the administration sees the likelihood of error.
As with any accusation, if you feel you have received a red light ticket in error, it is wise to take whatever action possible to correct the issue. In addition to being worth $100 for you personally, the collective action of many drivers could mean significant evidence of a faulty—and therefore unjust—system.