Transportation Expert Analyzes Red Light Camera Controversy in Chicago Tribune, Marketplace, Others

Joseph Schofer says dramatic increases in tickets signals an error with the system.

If you have ever questioned whether you deserved that traffic ticket from Chicago’s red light cameras, you are not alone. 

A 10-month investigation by the Chicago Tribune determined that thousands of Chicago drivers have been fined unfairly for red light violations. 

To support their conclusion, the Tribune approached Joseph Schofer, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science and an expert in transportation systems, to assess their findings.

Joseph SchoferSchofer analyzed the biggest irregularities from the Tribune’s data, which pinpointed 12 city intersections with red light cameras that produced thousands of questionable tickets. One camera near the United Center, which historically issued one ticket per day, delivered 56 tickets per day over a two-week period in 2013. Another camera on the North Side issued 560 tickets for “rolling right turns” over a 12 day stretch when it previously gave out a dozen tickets total for that offense during a six-month window in 2011. 

According to Schofer, while slight day-to-day or week-to-week variance in tickets issued should be expected, the data provided by the Tribune showing random, dramatic increases in tickets signals an error with the system.

"This was a lightning strike, and lightning strikes should not happen in a case like this," Schofer said.

While unsure about the exact nature of the inconsistencies, Schofer argued that any technological fail-safes in place to prevent these occurrences failed to work. 

“The system is broken,” Schofer said. “The only reasonable explanation is that it is something involved in the technology. Whether it’s diabolical or mechanical or electronic and accidental, I can’t look inside people’s souls and know that, but the evidence is pretty strong.”

Read more from Schofer’s analysis in the Chicago Tribune and NPR’s Marketplace

Watch a video of Schofer discussing the Chicago Tribune’s red light camera investigation.