CHICAGO (CBS) -- If you recently got a speeding ticket in Chicago, you might not deserve it.
CBS 2 Investigator Dorothy Tucker discovered a big problem that may mean the city owes thousands of drivers a whole lot of money. And this report got results.
When you see the speed camera flash, you know you've been caught. The proof is captured in date and time-stamped pictures and video.
"You would look at this and say I'm guilty because it's on camera," said Angelisa Winding. "Again, I'm not denying that I may have been speeding."
Winding still wants to challenge her ticket because of a mistake CBS 2 discovered.
She is angry, because the mistake could mean she and thousands of others like her do not deserve speeding tickets.
Here's what happened. While working on a CBS 2 Investigation in June about the city's recent decision to start ticketing drivers for going just 6 miles an hour over the limit, one of the first things we did was look at all of our video. We scrolled through and noticed a quick shot of a sign warning drivers about a speed camera ahead.
Something caught our eye. We checked it again and realized what was wrong.
One sign says no speeding between 6 a.m. and 9:30 am. It's supposed to read 9:30 p.m. – the time the nearby park closes.
That wrong sign is on Cicero Avenue near Gunnison Street and points to a speed camera around the corner at 4831 W. Lawrence Ave. That's where one driver we spoke with got several of those new $35 tickets after 9:30 in the morning.
"11:08 a.m., 6:04 p.m. on Lawrence Avenue," the driver said.
In all, the driver, who didn't want to be identified, racked up four $35 tickets between late March and early May. Now, he's questioning them.
"The sign clearly says it's enforceable between 6 am and 9:30 am. All these tickets were issued after 6 am to 9:30 a.m.," the driver said.
"Obviously it's wrong," said attorney Jacie Zolna. He is best known for filing a class action lawsuit challenging Chicago's red-light cameras.
"In this case, they're notified incorrectly of when the cameras are being enforced," said Zolna.
The CBS 2 Investigators learned the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) Sign Shop put up that sign on Cicero with the wrong hours in July 2020.
We wondered if there are other wrong signs out there. We went looking, crisscrossing Chicago, eyeballing nearly 300 speed camera signs.
We found more.
Remember Angelisa Winding and that ticket she wanted to challenge?
"Was it a typo? Did they mess up?" she said.
The city did mess up the misprinted sign we found on Jeffery Boulevard. CDOT's Sign Shop added the wrong hours to it in December 2020.
"I shouldn't have gotten a ticket," said Winding.
But she did get a ticket, on April 20 at 5:09 p.m. – nearly eight hours after the wrong sign indicated speed limit photo enforcement ended.
"I would have been coming from work that way and turning here," Winding said.
Winding described how she turned from Jeffery Boulevard onto 75th Street. That's where the camera flashed, catching her going 36 in a 30. She got slapped with a $35 fine.
"My question is, why am I getting a ticket if it says 6 a.m. to 9 a.m.?" she said.
The quick answer is because the sign is wrong.
CDOT oversees the speed camera program. They hire the vendor who maintains and inspects the cameras and the signs.
Signs like the wrong ones we found are called secondary warning signs. They are located on cross-streets indicating cameras are ahead after you make a turn onto other streets.
Those secondary signs are checked every two months. CDOT says the vendor, Verra Mobility, missed the misprinted enforcement hours during its last check in May and all the way back to when the wrong signs were first put up.
CDOT added it "has addressed this oversight with the vendor."
So it sounds like CDOT forgave the vendor. But there is no such mercy for drivers who are still expected to pay the fines.
Taking a look at just March 1 through March 27 -- the Lawrence Avenue camera issued 9,924 tickets and all told, drivers got fined $241,745.
Our unidentified driver who got his tickets on Lawrence Avenue owes the city $140.
Back on 75th Street more than 1,744 tickets were issued and drivers were fined $53,130. Winding got one $35 ticket after passing that wrong sign on Jeffery Boulevard.
"Something is clearly wrong," she said.
In addition to those two signs with wrong hours – we also found another secondary sign on 29th Street leading to a speed camera on Halsted Street. When the CBS 2 Investigators found it, the hours of enforcement were covered up by the speed limit portion turned upside down.
This sign has a history of problems. We found Google images showing missing information going back several years – and even one Google photo showing the entire sign on the ground. The images seem to indicate frequent vandalism that might require more frequent checks.
CDOT fixed all three signs on July 2, but only because the CBS 2 investigators pointed out the mistakes.
CDOT, in a statement, told us the vendor is supposed to alert the agency if signs are wrong, missing or have been vandalized.
In the meantime, consumer advocates are calling on the city to make things right.
"I hope the city does the right thing and refunds those tickets because they weren't rightfully issued. That would be the right thing to do," said Zolna.
CBS 2 asked the Department of Finance and the Mayor's office why not refund the money to those who already paid tickets and dismiss the tickets of those who haven't.
CDOT and the Department of Finance responded with this joint statement: "The inaccurate signs have been replaced and we are in the process of auditing the transactions related to these cameras so that refunds can be issued to those who have been inappropriately ticketed."
Earlier, CDOT also issued this longer statement:
"The goal of Chicago's Child Safety Zone program is not to issue tickets, but to encourage safer driving behavior and discourage speeding that is correlated with severe injuries and deaths in traffic crashes. This is why all Automated Speed Enforcement (ASE) zones throughout the City are clearly marked with signs and pavement markings to indicate to drivers that they are entering a speed enforcement Safety Zone.
"CDOT goes above and beyond what is required under the law to ensure that ASE zones are clearly marked. In addition to the statutorily required signage, CDOT has added supplemental signs that are bright yellow and say: "Speed Limit Photo Enforced Ahead."
"We encourage drivers to pay attention to these signs and observe the speed limit at all times, whether they are in an ASE zone or driving elsewhere in Chicago."
Did you get a ticket from a Chicago speed camera after March 1? We want to hear from you.
Email investigative producer Carol Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org, call us at 312-899-2250, or get in touch using the form below.
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