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Illinois Drivers Have Paid $1 Billion In Red Light Camera Tickets In The Last 10 Years

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Illinois drivers have forked over an astounding $1 billion in red light camera fines in the past 10 years, according to a new study, and now some lawmakers in Springfield are reviving a push to ban red light cameras.

At least two state representatives have introduced proposed legislation to eliminate red light cameras in Illinois, although both proposals remain in the infancy stages.

A ban would leave Chicago and many suburbs with significant budget holes. For example, in west suburban Oakbrook Terrace, a peek at finances shows a 2000% increase in fines collected the year red light cameras were installed at the intersection of Route 83 and 22nd Street.

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"We knew it was an important issue for taxpayers, and that's why we started investigating," said Austin Berg, director of content strategy for the Illinois Policy Institute, a libertarian think tank.

IPI wanted to know how much drivers are paying for red light camera tickets across the state, but research wasn't so easy.

"The state of Illinois has no comprehensive record of where these cameras are, how much money they're making. And that means you have to go to every individual municipality and ask, 'Do you have red light cameras? How long have they been there, and how much money have they made?'" Berg said.

One year and data from 100 communities later, Berg revealed the math.

"The amount of money is just astonishing. So we found that Illinois motorists over the last decade have paid at least $1 billion in red light camera fines," Berg said.

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That's 10 million tickets from red light cameras statewide.

A CBS 2 viewer who shared his violation video admitted rolling through a red light in west suburban Hillside, but wondered if his mistake was worth a $100 fine.

Did it hurt anybody?

Data from Hillside showed crashes decreased at that intersection after cameras arrived, but a few intersections down at Roosevelt and Harrison data showed accidents actually increased after red light cameras were installed.

"People are paying millions of dollars for something that has little safety benefit. That's why so many states are moving away from red light cameras. Illinois is building more and more and more," Berg said.

In 2014, the Chicago area had fewer than 40 red light cameras. Now there are nearly 600.

It only takes a few to rev up revenue for local governments.

The two cameras in Oakbrook Terrace raked in $5.4 million in one fiscal year. That's 54,000 drivers zapped at one intersection, an average of more than 147 a day.

The Oakbrook Terrace Police Department said no one was available to answer questions about fighting red light tickets, and emails to the mayor's office went unanswered.

Questions about red light cameras in Oakbrook Terrace apparently are so common, the first option on the city hall automated phone line is for red light violation inquiries.

Chicago is the biggest beneficiary from red light cameras in Illinois, taking in $56 million in fines last year alone.

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