Think Speed Cameras are Traps? Try Using Your Speedometer

Willie Cochran

Is 20th Ward Alderman Willie Cochran’s speedometer broken? This morning, DNAinfo columnist Mark Konkol wrote that Cochran has received three tickets from the same speed camera, near the Midway Plaisance and Cottage Grove in Hyde Park. The cam is located a few blocks west of where a driver struck and injured a young girl last month.

Konkol wrote that Cochran “got pinched,” by the camera, and refers to cams as “Big Brother speed traps,” implying that there was something unfair about the tickets. Never mind that there are “Speed Limit Photo Enforced Ahead” signs nearby, or that the alderman must have been going at least ten miles over the 30 mph speed limit in order to have been cited.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, while most pedestrians struck at 30 mph survive, those struck at 40 mph almost always die. However, Konkol seems to suggest that Cochran didn’t have the option of glancing at his speedometer now and then to make sure he wasn’t driving way too fast for city streets. As he did last month, the columnist is characterizing Chicago’s speed camera program as something that victimizes drivers, rather than protects all road users by discouraging dangerous speeding.

In response to his three tickets, Cochran is thinking locally and acting globally. He has asked the Chicago Department of Transportation to install digital speed indicator signs by all speed cameras in his district, and possibly the entire city. According to a City Hall source, the alderman will likely get a speed feedback sign by the speed cam that ticketed him, Konkol reports.

One issue with Konkol’s writing about automated enforcement is that he doesn’t seem to understand how significant a factor speed is in traffic deaths. Nationally, 30 percent of all fatal crashes involve speeding, with the vast majority of these collisions taking place on local roads, according to the NHTSA. In Chicago, statistics show that pedestrian crashes that involve a speeding driver are far more likely to result in serious injury or death than those where speeding isn’t a factor.

While Konkol characterizes speed cams as a trap, the city of Chicago actually gives drivers plenty of warning about the locations of speed cameras, and the tickets are easy to avoid. Again, each camera already has one or more warning signs placed a couple hundred feet in front of it. When CDOT installs new cams, they issue press releases, which are reported on by local news outlets. The cam locations are available on CDOT’s website and via smartphone apps like Waze.

For the first 30 days after a speed camera is installed, it only issues warnings, not tickets. The first time a driver speeds by any camera, he or she only receives a warning, not a ticket. And, as mentioned above, you don’t get ticketed unless you’re driving 10 mph or more over the posted limit.

Konkol notes that Chicago speed cameras collected $58 million is fines since the city began installing them in 2013. He argues that revenue is the reason the city hasn’t put up more feedback signs by the cams, which would give drivers even more advanced warning.

However, the purpose of speed cameras shouldn’t simply be to get people to slow down when they drive by parks and schools. Ideally, the cams should reinforce the message that driving 40 mph or higher anywhere on Chicago surface streets is dangerous and will not be tolerated.

Konkol does have one valid point: The city should be studying the speed cameras to make sure they are doing their job to make streets safer, protect children, reduce crashes, and save lives. Fortunately, that’s in the works.

In March, Mayor Rahm Emanuel promised that the city will recruit a team of experts to review the Chicago’s red light camera program. The panel will also analyze the speed cams, CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey told Konkol.

  • Anne A

    “Ideally, the cams should reinforce the message that driving 40 mph or higher anywhere on Chicago surface streets is dangerous and will not be tolerated.”

    Exactly. If people are speeding so routinely that they whine about the very existence of speed cameras, then they are part of the problem. Hopefully they get all the tickets they deserve, and those tickets provide enough motivation for them to lighten up on their gas pedals.

  • Newk

    Great rebuttal to the DNAinfo piece!

  • Matt F

    Mark Konkol is really stepping up to be the next Kasshole. I wonder if he’s moved out to the suburbs yet.

  • Jeremy

    Maybe he is auditioning for a job driving Rahm Emanuel’s motorcade?

    Neither the Konkol article, nor this article, mentions that Willie Cochran used to be a police officer. Why is he incapable of obeying the law?

  • Jason Sonenshein

    Mr. Vance, your advice doesn’t always work. Xerox revenue cameras falsely accuse tens of thousands of innocent people.

  • skyrefuge

    “Ideally, the cams should reinforce the message that driving 40 mph or
    higher anywhere on Chicago surface streets is dangerous and will not be

    Unless you’re on Devon through the North Branch Forest Preserve (and presumably several other surface streets in Chicago) where the posted limit is 40mph. Admittedly there are no intersections of any sort, nor sidewalks in that stretch, but it’s not any sort of limited-access road.

  • Ever try biking on that stretch instead of taking the parallel leg of the North Branch Trail? It’s terrifying.

  • skyrefuge

    Ha, no, though I’ve dumped out of the trail and continued east on Devon plenty of times, and the Devon/Caldwell/Lehigh intersection is one of the worst I’ve been through (seems like a driver honks/swerves/guns it 50% of the time). Only now do I realize that the just-exited dragway could be a contributing factor to the aggression!

  • david

    Xerox runs the red light camera program Jason. Not the speed camera program.

  • Matt F


    You said “According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, while most pedestrians struck at 30 mph survive, those struck at 40 mph almost always die” but the link in that quote does not line up with your summary.

    From the literature review link:
    “Fatalities [for pedestrians hit by vehicles] increased from less than 2 percent for speed limits of 25 mph or less to 5 – 6 percent at speed limits of 30 – 35 mph, nearly 10 percent at 40-45 mph and to 24 percent at 50 mph or higher.”

    10% fatality rate for 40-45mph speed limit is not consistent with “those struck at 40mph almost always die”

    Did I read that wrong, or are you bending the truth here?

  • Thanks for your donation.

    Perhaps we shouldn’t have attributed the numbers to NHTSA (I don’t have time to pour over all the numbers and graphs in that document this evening), but several studies other than Pasanen have reported similar numbers, and the stats we provided have been cited by both the Chicago and New York DOTs in their pedestrian plans.

    More on the subject here:

    Similar findings here:

  • Jason Sonenshein

    I stand corrected. Thanks for the information.

  • Jason Sonenshein


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The Chicago Tribune’s David Kidwell and his colleagues have written extensively about the city’s red light camera program. Some of that reporting has been constructive, including revelations about the red light cam bribery scandal, unexplained spikes in ticketing, and cameras that were installed in low-crash locations during the Richard M. Daley administration. Other aspects of the […]