Fewer than one in four motorists whose photo was taken while speeding through a construction zone in the Springfield area this past spring and summer got a ticket.

Fewer than one in four motorists whose photo was taken while speeding through a construction zone in the Springfield area this past spring and summer got a ticket.

But Illinois State Police say the numbers — 505 possible violations spotted, 116 citations mailed since the program began in March — don’t tell the real story.

It’s the reduction in construction-zone crashes, the agency says, that proves speed-enforcement cameras are slowing people down.

“The bottom line is we didn’t have anyone die in a construction zone (in Springfield-based District 9) this year,” said District 9 Capt. James Wolf. “We only had three personal-injury crashes within the construction zones this year, and two of those three were DUIs.”

In 2007, 21 fatal crashes in highway work zones were reported throughout Illinois, and of those, two were worker fatalities. Specific figures for District 9 last year weren’t available.

Writing more tickets was never the intent of photo enforcement, Wolf said, and the glitches that give many drivers a pass pale compared to saving lives.

“There’s a whole range of reasons why we would reject a violation,” Wolf said. “The bottom line is we wanted to make sure the people who received the citations were the ones who committed the violations.”

Among the reasons for rejection are poor picture quality: more than one vehicle in the photo, inability to identify the driver, lack of a license on the vehicle or a temporary sticker on the vehicle.

In some cases, a vehicle’s registered owner and the driver are not the same person.
Out-of-state drivers present the biggest problem, Wolf said. Quite simply, state police cannot use the photo speed-enforcement cameras to nab them, he said.

“We have no way, right now, of accessing an (out-of-state) driver’s picture information,” Wolf said. “We can get vehicle information, and from that we can sometimes get the driver’s license information, but we have no mechanism in place, that I’m aware of, of pulling that picture.”

Without a driver’s license photograph to confirm the alleged offender’s identity and only a camera to catch the speeder in the act, drivers from neighboring states can essentially get away with it. Not so if a trooper catches them in the act.

“The camera will capture that image and will record that as a violation,” Wolf said. “The trooper will probably reject the violation for the out-of-state driver because we have no mechanism in tying an image to that driver. Whereas in Illinois, we have access to the Illinois driver’s license imaging through (the secretary of state’s database).”

The Illinois Department of Transportation sees it differently, contending that tickets to out-of-state speeders could be issued.

“Our process to handle out-of-state drivers is to work directly with the state SOS (secretary of state) or DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) to get driver info and then proceeding with the process as we would an in-state violator,” IDOT spokeswoman Paris Ervin said via e-mail. “We can assure you that all drivers captured violating the speed limit — the law will be enforced regardless of what state the driver is from.”

Sangamon County State’s Attorney John Schmidt said he believes state police have exercised discretion and fairness in citing only drivers who can be proven guilty by matching up driver’s license photographs to those captured by the state’s cameras.

“The prosecution has to be done fairly, and we have to have a mechanism with which to do it,” Schmidt said. “The state police are being fair in exercising their discretion appropriately. They’re not just catching you on camera and mailing a ticket, they’re doing what professional law officers are supposed to do.”

Of the 116 citations mailed at a processing fee of $15 apiece, about two-thirds were found guilty, ordered to pay the $375 to $500 fine and placed on court supervision, Wolf said. Another 14 percent of the alleged offenders failed to appear in court to contest the ticket.

Seventeen percent of the citations were dismissed for a myriad of reasons, including a few times when the trooper who issued the citation was in training and unable to attend court, he said.

On some occasions, tickets were dismissed because of blurry picture quality. However, Wolf said he could not provide a breakdown of how many citations were dismissed for that reason.

“There were ... times when the picture was reviewed in court, and it may not have been as clear as what the officer saw on the computer and when he approved the citation,” he said.

“A couple of the (dismissed) citations were issued to trucking companies,” Wolf added. “There’s not a mechanism in place where we can require the trucking company to advise us who the driver was of this particular truck on this particular day.”

And then there are rental cars.

State law allows police to mail an affidavit to a rental car company requiring it to report who was driving a rental vehicle at a specific time and date, Wolf said.

But Rich Kim, chief of the traffic and misdemeanor division for the Sangamon County state’s attorney’s office, said a majority of rental car company violations can’t be prosecuted.

“Everything I’ve seen has been citations issued directly to the rental car companies,” he said.

“They’re not really supposed to issue those. You can’t charge a corporation for a traffic citation.”
Wolf said state police “were still on a little bit of a learning curve when this program started, but we’ve gotten all the bugs worked out.”

“It’s new technology,” he added. “We’re getting better at it, we’re working hard at improving the equipment, and we have higher-resolution cameras compared to the beginning of this year.”

The five vans containing speed enforcement cameras, which travel throughout Illinois, are contracted to the state by ACF State and Local Solutions at a cost of $2,950 each per month.

Rhys Saunders can be reached at (217) 788-1521 or rhys.saunders@sj-r.com.