Searching for a more effective way to control speeding in highway work zones, the state of Illinois unveiled a photo enforcement plan in 2006, becoming the first state to use the new technology to enhance work zone safety.

According to the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), 6,700 work zone crashes occur annually in the state, resulting in 2,800 injuries and more than 40 deaths. Motorists represent 85 percent of the fatalities. Motorists, as well as workers, are at risk due to configurations that include narrowing lanes, lane jogs and dips and closed shoulders and lanes. Driving at slower speeds allows drivers more time to react to changed conditions. Photo speed enforcement is used to increase safety by obtaining motorists’ voluntary compliance with posted speed limits.

Photo enforcement vans, operated by specially trained state troopers, were deployed for the first time last year. Three vans were active at work zones throughout the state. A fourth van will further expand the program this year. p>The marked, white vans are equipped with the latest in photo radar technology, designed to record the speed of vehicles and to capture clear images of the driver and the license plate, regardless of the weather conditions or the time of day. They are used in work zones only when workers are present. Signs are clearly posted indicating that speeds are photo enforced by automated traffic control systems. 

All tickets are sent by certified mail to the violators within fourteen business days. Work zone speeding fines for first-time offenders are $375, while second-time offenders face a $1,000 fine and loss of their license for 90 days.

At a press conference in April to announce the second year of photo enforcement, IDOT Acting Secretary Milt Sees and Illinois State Police (ISP) Director Larry Trent warned drivers to be alert and slow down in work zones as the 2007 highway construction season kicks off.

“April is the month when highway construction gets underway, and we want the public to know that it is critical that they slow down and be on the lookout for workers and equipment in these work zones,” said Sees, as he announced enforcement plans for 2007. “Our goal is to protect the lives of the many dedicated workers who are improving our roadways as well as drivers and passengers traveling through work zones. Thanks to strict enforcement by the State Police, we have been making steady progress in reducing work zone fatalities in Illinois.”

As a result of photo enforcement plus the significant fines, the number of work zone fatalities went from a 2005 total of 44, including five workers, to a total of 28 in 2006, including only one worker.

“We know that driving too fast for conditions is one of the biggest contributors to crashes in general and to work zone crashes in particular,” said ISP Director Larry Trent. “Photo enforcement has given us an additional tool for enforcing work zone speed limits, and drivers across the state should expect aggressive enforcement – whether it is by photo enforcement, regular patrol cars or our motorcycle unit.” After issuing over 4,000 citations in 2006 and winning a 67 percent conviction rate, Illinois is getting results. Workers and motorists alike benefit from the state’s commitment to work zone safety.

[Mark Dempsey]