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updated: 3/13/2012 6:28 PM

No need proven for speed cameras

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Daily Herald Editorial Board

Safety near our schools is a universal goal. Everyone can agree on its importance, right?

But do we need or want cameras tracking motorists as they drive by schools? Will cameras make those roads safer?

That's the key question that Illinois legislators need to ask themselves if a proposal comes up for a vote that would allow suburban communities to install cameras that could automatically ticket drivers for speeding in a school zone.

A Chicago state senator offered up the proposal to mirror what has been approved for Chicago already. But as transportation writer Marni Pyke and Springfield reporter Mike Riopell have written in the last week, suburban officials are not convinced this is needed. And neither are we.

As Pyke reported, studies are inconclusive or at least raise some doubts as to the effectiveness of cameras.

"Studies show it's not the speed limit that affects crashes but more the variability of speed," said Virginia Tech Transportation Institute professor Hesham Rakha. To explain, he said there is the potential for people to hit their brakes suddenly to avoid a camera ticket, raising the likelihood of crashes.

Retired Lombard Deputy Police Chief Dane Cuny said studies in the United Kingdom revealed that red-light and speed cameras had no impact on reducing accidents.

Ah, red-light cameras. That's why this argument sounds so familiar. Many suburban communities rushed to install the cameras that would catch right-turn-on-red offenders. But safety again was not always the primary purpose, as we found out in a series of stories on the issue.

Pyke talked to mayors in Schaumburg and Naperville who said their experience with red-light cameras (tried them and pulled them out) also would govern their decisions on speed cameras.

Even Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson, a proponent of red-light cameras for safety reasons, doesn't see a need for these.

And neither do suburban legislators who in the end would vote on this bill if it moves further.

"I would not be in favor of school speed zone cameras in the suburbs ... since there is no demonstrative proof that they're needed," said state Sen. Kirk Dillard, a Hinsdale Republican.

Without that, cameras would appear to be nothing more than a money grab. The bill as written would trigger a $50 ticket for driving 6 mph over the posted speed limit, a $100 ticket if a motorist goes more than 10 mph over.

Lombard's Cuny makes a solid argument against cameras: "Driving is an art, not a science. Police officers are given discretion to apply the law so you're not ticketed if you are driving a few miles over the limit."

We think enforcement should stay with officers on the scene. And motorists need to slow down and pay attention in those school zones.

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