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Illinois Judge Endorses Shortened Yellow Times
Cook County, Illinois judge endorses shortened yellow times at Chicago red light camera intersections.

Judge Rita M. Novak
The photo ticketing industry has one less lawsuit to worry about. Earlier this month, a Cook County Circuit Court judge issued the ruling that Chicago, Illinois officials wanted to hear: The red light camera program that generates $60 million in annual revenue can stay. In coming to her decision, the judge acknowledged that the industry needed to hear some good news.

"The cameras have been controversial since their installation, and in recent years they have been tied to a high-profile bribery scandal, criminal indictments, and convictions," Judge Rita M. Novak wrote. "In separate proceedings, the city itself claims that the cameras' original vendor, Redflex Traffic Systems Inc, fraudulently obtained the contracts to implement the program."

Judge Novak rejected arguments that the state law authorizing Chicago's camera program violated a number of state constitutional provisions. For example, the Illinois constitution bans "local laws" that single out particular jurisdictions, but the red light camera statute only allowed cameras in the counties of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, Madison, McHenry, St. Clair, and Will. Lawmakers came up with the jurisdictions as a result of political deals, but Judge Novak reasoned that a rationale could be created to explain the choice of localities affected.

"Plaintiffs' arguments are valiant but ultimately unavailing," Judge Novak ruled. "It was rational for the General Assembly to presume that there are more cars and intersections in the affected areas... Accordingly, the legislature could have rationally concluded that these areas have different traffic enforcement needs than the rest of the state."

The lawsuit also argued that the camera program violates federal law because the city set yellow signal warning times below the federal minimum of 3.0 seconds. Chicago's lawyers countered that the city can get away with 2.9 second yellows because federal statutes contain no explicit penalties for flouting the law. Judge Novak sided with the municipal attorneys.

"Even if a 3.0-second legal minimum exists, plaintiffs have not shown they have standing to enforce the minimum," she wrote. "The complaint contains a number of allegations that the less than 3.0-second duration of the city's yellow lights causes an increase in rear end collisions and has a negative impact on roadway safety. While these allegations may be relevant to establish a duty of care in a negligence suit, they are irrelevant to plaintiffs' claims here because none of the plaintiffs are alleged to have been involved in a collision or suffered physical injury due to short yellow light durations."

Chicago and its vendors are not yet in the clear. One of Judge Novak's judicial colleagues decided on February 19 that a lawsuit challenging Chicago's implementation of the photo ticketing law could proceed. A copy of Judge Novak's ruling is available in a 3mb PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Kata v. Chicago (Cook County, Illinois Circuit Court, 4/1/2016)

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