Do red-light cameras save lives or are they merely cash cows for governments seeking to supplement revenues?
That's the question driving one state lawmaker to call for a ban on red-light cameras statewide.
State Rep. David McSweeney, a Barrington Hills Republican, says red-light cameras are nothing more than revenue generators for municipalities.
"Red-light cameras do not enhance public safety ... raising revenue is not a valid reason to continue the red-light camera program in Illinois," he said.
McSweeney, who represents the House 52nd District straddling Cook, Kane, Lake and McHenry counties, has proposed two bills, one of which would eliminate red-light cameras statewide, and the other only in non-home rule communities. He said he has heard from many constituents who support the move.
Red-light cameras have proliferated throughout the suburbs in the past decade, but not without raising controversy.
Algonquin, Deer Park, Schaumburg and St. Charles are among the towns that have ended red-light camera programs due to complaints or lack of proof they improve safety.
Cameras at two intersections along Randall Road in Algonquin helped decrease traffic violations and changed driver behavior before officials nixed the eight-year-old program last year. St. Charles shut off its lone camera along Route 31 after five years because it was losing money.
McSweeney urges leaders in Fox River Grove and Wauconda -- towns within his district with red-light cameras -- to follow suit.
"Studies have shown how the presence of red-light cameras can actually create more rear-end collisions," he said. "The perception of many Illinois residents is that these cameras are nothing more than an additional way to tax Illinois residents and raise revenue for Illinois municipalities. It is time to eliminate red-light cameras."
House Bill 472 and House Bill 473 have been introduced and await assignment to a legislative committee.
In 2015, similar legislation sponsored by McSweeney to stop non-home rule communities from using red-light cameras passed the House with 79 votes, but died in the Senate.
Losing red-light camera revenue could significantly affect the budgets of smaller towns.
For example, Fox River Grove's sole red-light camera, at the busy intersection of routes 14 and 22, generates more than $447,000 in yearly revenues. It was installed after residents complained about near misses between vehicles and pedestrians.
Red-light camera revenue does not fund any portion of the village's roughly $4 million operating budget. However, camera revenue does primarily fund its street resurfacing program, Village Administrator Derek Soderholm said.
"We would essentially have to come up with about $500,000 a year to resurface streets, which currently does not exist in the village's budget," he said. "We would have to potentially ask the voters for an increase."
He added the number of accidents at that intersection has declined since cameras were installed in 2009.
Village President Robert Nunamaker said officials will consider whether to discontinue the red-light camera at the end of the contract in two years.
"Would we feel it? Absolutely. But it was not put in to solve financial problems," he said.
Nunamaker said village residents constitute roughly 2 percent of those ticketed for red-light camera violations.
"I have had complaints from people who are not my constituents," he said. "The issue is it was put in there to try and facilitate pedestrian traffic across a very busy intersection. If the red-light camera wasn't there, we would have many more people not stopping before making a right turn on red. It has definitely affected the way people drive. If we had to get rid of it, I would press very hard to get a 'no turn on red' sign there."