Traffic School
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What Are Traffic Lights?

Imagine this: You are on your way to work, in a bit of a hurry and about to cross an intersection. The light is yellow, so you speed up, believing you'll have time to make it through the intersection before the light turns red. You realize that you've made the wrong choice when the light flashes to red just before you enter the intersection. You continue on through because it's too late to stop, but your gut churns as you wait to get pulled over. After a moment, you realize they aren't coming for you, and you breathe a deep sigh of relief.

Almost everyone has misjudged a red light at some point in their driving career. However, drivers in the following counties can say goodbye to the sweet feeling of relief that comes from "getting away with it." Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, Madison and St. Clair counties have joined the city of Chicago in installing red light cameras in certain intersections. Even if a police officer doesn't catch you, you could still receive a ticket in the mail.

Illinois intersection cameras work by taking either a series of pictures or a video of the violation. The cameras turn on as the light turns yellow. If they sense that you are going too fast to stop for the red light, they automatically snap a photo of your car and your license plate when your car passes the stop line after the signal changes. Then, another picture is snapped to show your car continuing through the intersection after the light change. You may also be ticketed if you make a right turn on red without stopping first. The pictures are reviewed by police officers, and if it is determined that a violation occurred, the registered owner of the car is mailed a ticket. You should not receive a ticket if the light was green when your vehicle entered the intersection, and of course you are also off the hook if you are participating in a funeral procession.

What if you weren't driving? Well, you can take comfort in the fact that Illinois treats a red light camera violation as a civil violation rather than a criminal one. It won't go on your driving record and it won't affect your insurance rates. Illinois intersection cameras are like extremely expensive parking tickets.
Many cities with the cameras also have a website where you can log on to view your "15 seconds of fame." If you see something amiss in the pictures or videos, or if you just want to fight the ticket, the state does give you an option to appeal. However, the only valid defenses for running an Illinois red light are

  • The vehicle or the license plate was stolen.
  • You were not the registered owner of the vehicle on the date the violation occurred.
  • You already got a ticket from a police officer.
  • The car in the pictures was leased or rented to someone else on that date.
  • You were going through as part of a funeral procession.

Illinois law does require that intersections with cameras have signs indicating that the red light is being photo-enforced, so you should not be caught unawares. Just remember to approach the intersection cautiously, and stop for a yellow if you are unsure if you can make the light or not.

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