Chicago, IL

Chicago’s Race Neutral Traffic Cameras Target Minorities But City Will Keep Them

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

Although traffic cameras are created to be race neutral in their operation, those in Chicago have been shown to ticket black and Latino drivers twice as often as white drivers
Chicago traffic cams ticket twice as many people of color as whites (CC BY-ND 3.0

Twenty years ago, then Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley installed the cities first traffic cameras which he said would decrease dangerous driving. Rahm Emanuael, touted the cameras as making the streets safer for kids, while he successor Lori Lightfoot talked about keeping communities safe. According to a Chicago Department of Transportation analysis, the traffic cameras are increasing safety by saving lives.

This analysis found that comparing the period before the installation of the cameras in 2012-2013 and to 2018-2019, that although serious injury and deaths due to crashes increased by 21 percent city-wide, they only increased by 2 percent in the camera zones and while car accidents went up by 64 percent across Chicago, they only increased by 18 percent in the areas where the cameras were installed.

While this seems like good news regarding the cities traffic cameras, all the news wasn’t as glowing. Despite the decreased speed and accident-related injuries and fatalities that have been linked to the cameras, a new analysis conducted by ProPublica which examined millions of citations issued from 2015-2019, showed that ticket were issued in black and Hispanic areas at twice the rate of those issued in white areas. codes received tickets at around twice the rate of those in white areas.

Leaders in black and Latino neighborhoods are complaining about these results. While they don’t deny the safety benefits of the cameras, they do point out the negative consequences that these tickets have led to, in areas where residents already lack adequate resourced.

In particular, the report showed that black communities have had to face over half a billion dollars in fines over the past 15 years, which were associated with thousands of vehicles being impounded, suspension of driver’s licenses and even bankruptcies.

Although it might have been predicted that the COVID-19 pandemic would decrease this disparity due to people remaining home and driving less than in the past, the racial gap in ticketing widened. This has been largely attributed to the fact that blacks and Latinos have had less ability to work remotely compared to whites, a problem seen nationwide. In a national survey, it was found that while 34 percent of white and 44 percent of Asian employees were able to transition to remote work, only 26 percent of black and 27 percent of Hispanic employees were able to do likewise.

A University of Chicago study showed that the racial difference in ticketing is not due to the number of cameras in different areas. The study’s authors wrote, “The number of cameras in close proximity to majority Black or majority Latino neighborhoods is not significantly greater than other neighborhoods,” they wrote.

Olatunji Oboi Reed, a longtime activist for racial equity in transportation in Chicago said that for many people of color in Chicago, one ticket can be the equivalent of “throwing their whole finances in a hurricane.”

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Chicago, IL

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