Speeding, distracted driving, disobeying traffic signals and failure to stop for people walking are the leading causes of traffic crashes, injuries and deaths. These behaviors are rampant in Chicago.
It’s clear that we’re not going to achieve progress on Vision Zero without more effective enforcement of traffic laws that targets the most dangerous travel behaviors. Our culture of reckless driving can no longer be tolerated and people that are putting others’ lives at risk must be held accountable.
Cities that enforce traffic laws more consistently experience significantly fewer traffic crashes and fatalities.
This enforcement, however, must be fair and not disproportionately impact low-income communities and communities of color.
There are far too many examples from across the country where law enforcement has used traffic enforcement as a guise to unfairly investigate vulnerable segments of the population. There are also many stories of low-income families struggling to pay overly burdensome fees and penalties for violations of traffic laws and other aspects of city code.
Chicago should explore alternatives to regressive fines and incarceration. Options include warnings, an income-based penalty structure, and restorative justice approaches to changing behavior.
With a robust dialogue currently taking place in Chicago around community and police relations, officials must be clear that traffic laws will be fairly enforced and that community concerns about enforcement practices will be adequately addressed.
With these concerns in mind, here are some changes Chicago should pursue in traffic enforcement policy:
- Targeted in-person enforcement: Chicago should increase targeted enforcement of traffic laws that address dangerous travel behavior, without disproportionately impacting communities of color. Behaviors that are most common in fatal and serious injury crashes – such as speeding and failure to yield – should be prioritized.
- Reforming photo enforcement: Safety cameras can be an effective tool in reducing dangerous travel behaviors, and Chicago’s red-light camera and speed camera programs have made our streets safer. There’s plenty of room for improvement though, and the city is currently working on an evaluation of its program.
The city’s automated speed enforcement program is limited by the number of safety cameras and where they can be placed. Chicago should continue to evaluate the effectiveness of its automated speed enforcement program to maximize its impact.
We also must remember that enforcement alone will not solve Chicago’s traffic safety problem. Enforcement is only one aspect of a comprehensive Vision Zero strategy and it’s most effective when combined with other proven strategies.
Learn more about Vision Zero – including our policy recommendations on commercial vehicles, hit and run crashes, speed reduction, turn restrictions, education and infrastructure – on our Vision Zero campaign page.