Most Chicago-area taxpayers are aware that when a CTA busdriver causes an accident, it is almost always the Chicago taxpayers who foot the bill for the damage, including those stemming from personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits. What they may not know, however, is that Chicago taxpayers are also footing the bill for busdrivers’ dangerous driving when an accident does not result.
Our Chicago CTA accident lawyers recently discussed the proliferation of red-light cameras in the Chicago area. Chicago-area pedestrians are quite familiar with the tendency of many drivers, including CTA, Metra, Pace or other public busdrivers, to run red lights – the experience of waiting to cross the road, even after the light has changed, because a bus is still in the intersection is a daily ritual in Chicago. It is unsurprising, then, that Chicago’s red-light cameras catch an inordinate number of CTA and Pace buses running red lights.
In fact, red-light cameras caught CTA busdrivers running red lights a staggering 1,200 times in 2008. CTA non-fare vehicles (cars and trucks) racked up an additional 75 red-light tickets. And Pace drivers, including buses, vanpools, and paratransit vehicles, were also caught by red-light cameras over 100 times in that same year. Pace, however, operates largely in the suburbs, which have a comparatively smaller number of red-light cameras. With Cook County’s plans to increase the number of cameras in the suburbs, our Chicago bus accident attorneys expect that number to rise.
And CTA policy does not require the busdrivers themselves to pay the penalty for red-light malfeasance. Instead, the CTA itself pays the $100 fine each time a red-light camera issues a citation to a CTA bus. The CTA instituted this policy when the red-light cameras began to spring up across Chicagoland, in response to pressure from the busdrivers’ union. Pace, however, still requires the bus drivers themselves to pay for red-light tickets – perhaps another reason why the number of Pace violations is lower.
CTA officials insist that the policy is not overly lenient on offending busdrivers, and that it is easy for the CTA to discipline offending drivers because the CTA can view the red-light camera photos, as well as video of the red-light violations. This may be little reassurance, however, to Chicago drivers and pedestrians familiar with the commonality of CTA buses running red lights. Indeed, the number of CTA red-light violation nearly doubled from 2007 to 2008. Bus drivers, in turn, point the finger back at the CTA, claiming that the agency is placing increased pressure on them to keep the buses on schedule. Regardless, the outcome is the same: more potentially catastrophic bus accidents caused by negligent driving of public buses.
The CTA also asserts that its current policy is more efficient. Before this policy was put in place, when the CTA received a red-light violation, it would have to ask the city to re-issue the ticket to the bus driver responsible. The driver could then either pay the ticket or contest it. Until that process was complete, the CTA could not take any action against the driver. Now, the CTA can begin the internal investigation and discipline process – which may lead to a series of progressive actions beginning with retraining leading up to written warnings or eventual dismissal – as soon as it receives the citation. It is questionable, however, whether this minimal gain in efficiency justifies the annual use of over $100,000 in taxpayer dollars to pay drivers’ citations.
In any event, relieving busdrivers from the fiscal consequences of their dangerous driving is not a move designed to enhance the safety of others on the road. Our Chicago CTA accident attorneys urge the CTA to reverse this dangerous policy, giving its drivers a direct incentive to abide by the rules of the road.
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago personal injury lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.