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School Zone Speed Cameras Pose Latest Hitch for Emanuel

by Mike Chirillo, published

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to install school zone speed cameras was momentarily derailed earlier this week. The delay was caused by an Illinois Attorney General’s opinion in 1974, which clarifies the statement “when children are present” in regards to school zone speed limits.

According to the Attorney General’s opinion, a child must be visibly present in order for the speed limit to be justified. A section of his statement reads:

“The word ‘present,’ as defined in both law and general dictionaries, means present to sight or to the other senses. The Superintendent of Public Instruction has consistently followed that interpretation over the years. To interpret ‘present’ as authorizing the 20-mile speed limitation when school children are inside the school building and not outside on the streets or in the school zone would not only disregard the plain meaning of the words used in the Act, but also its intention and the object sought to be accomplished.”

The cameras, therefore, must catch not only the license plate of a speeding car, but also at least one visible child within the frame. As reported in the Chicago Tribune, this ruling has caused a slew of complications, particularly in the manpower necessary and the general ability to differentiate between school children and adult pedestrians.

Proponents of the bill argue that safety would increase in school zones. The effect, they say, would be similar to red light cameras -- ticketing those who blow through red lights or turn on red when not allowed. According to an IIHS report, red-light-running fatalities were decreased by 24% in cities utilizing the cameras.

The opposition, however, perceives the school zone cameras as yet another desperate attempt for the money-starved city to generate revenue. They also believe the cameras are an infringement on personal privacy.

Government over-reach in the lives of everyday civilians has been a major point of contention in this year’s presidential election. Chicago is a hotbed for such over-reach, with not only red light and school zone cameras, but with blue-light cameras as well. Otherwise known as "POD's," these cameras are installed on street corners with particularly high crime rates.

This latest development continues a string of recent setbacks for Emanuel. A casino bill he supported was struck down by Governor Pat Quinn and a Chicago Teachers Union strike has proceeded into its fourth straight day. However, the school zone camera plan, as a union deal, may be imminent in the near future. City officials still plan to implement the cameras next year according to a local ABC affiliate.

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