Ignoring speed camera tickets could mean the Denver boot

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7-1-08 700 Block of North Bishop Street. Chicago, Illinois. File Art- The Denver Boot on a car. Photo by Scott Stewart/Sun-Times

Chicago motorists with more than three unpaid speed-camera tickets for violations near schools and parks would be slapped with the Denver boot and those with five or more unpaid tickets would have their driver’s licenses suspended under a mayoral plan introduced Wednesday.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is trying to appease recalcitrant aldermen by capping the number of cameras at 360 and rolling back the hours they would operate around schools from 6 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

He’s also promising to issue two tiers of warnings to motorists – including an unlimited number for 30 days after cameras are installed and one more freebie after the break-in period.

But the speed camera ordinance the mayor introduced at Wednesday’s City Council meeting would bring the hammer down on motorists who refuse to pay their speeding tickets – $50 for going six-to-10 mph over the limit near schools and parks and $100 for those caught going 11 mph over the limit.

Just like parking and red-light ticket scofflaws, they would be booted after three unpaid tickets and repeated warnings to pay them or two tickets more than a year old. Motorists with five or more unpaid speed cam tickets would have their driver’s licenses suspended.

The ordinance does not specify where cameras would be located. It simply caps the number at “no more than 20 percent” of the 1,800 “eligible safety zones” and declares that speed cameras could be “stationary or mobile.”

And it establishes as one of several grounds for appeal the fact that a motorist had received a speeding violation within one-eighth of a mile and fifteen minutes of a previous speed cam ticket – essentially trying to guard against two tickets being issued for the same instance of speeding.

Fearful of a political backlash that could rival the parking meter fiasco, aldermen were not exactly rushing to sign onto the watered-down ordinance. Some are holding out for Emanuel to roll back the hours even further.

That’s apparently why the mayor’s spin machine was in full gear after Wednesday’s meeting.

Emanuel held a news conference with a Catholic school president and two emergency room doctors dressed in gray coats to hammer home his contention that speed cameras are about “protecting children”– not about raising revenue.

“We’ve had five accidents in nine months on Jackson Boulevard right in front of our school. One of those accidents occurred at 9:30 in the morning and it involved a vehicle crashing into the school. All of those accidents involved speeding vehicles,” said the Rev. Christopher Devron, president of Christ the King Jesuit College Prep. “When I heard about this initiative, I was ecstatic because this is an issue of student safety, pure and simple.”

A reporter noted that many Chicagoans remain skeptical of the mayor’s motives. They believe it’s about money – not safety. Now, the reporter said, “You bring us a priest.” Emanuel didn’t miss a beat.

“Next week, I’ll bring you a rabbi. And we’ll just keep going down the list until you’re converted,” the mayor said.

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