SPRINGFIELD - Motorists who speed through certain Illinois highway construction zones might be getting a surprise in the mail - a ticket bearing their photograph from a radar-activated camera, along with a hefty fine.
Illinois State Police will begin staffing vans equipped with the radar cameras in March but will not pull over drivers found exceeding the generally 45 mph speed limit in work zones. Instead, tickets bearing a picture of the driver and the vehicle's license plate will be sent by certified mail to motorists within six business days.
Fines will be hefty: $375 for the first offense, while those found guilty a second time within a two-year period face a $1,000 fine and a 90-day loss of their license.
"These fines are mandated by the state Legislature to let motorists know that we're serious about safety," said Jeff Darko, a state trooper heading the photo enforcement program, which will use equipment similar to that already in place to monitor payments at Chicago-area toll booths and traffic signal violations in Chicago.
Given that there were 26 fatalities in Illinois highway work zones last year - with just one of the dead being a worker - Darko said that "it's not just the workers we're trying to protect." Accidents in Illinois highway work zones killed 39 people, including two workers, in 2004, while in 2003 the death toll was 44 people, five of them workers.
Darko said three vans initially will be stationed around the state - one along Cook County highways, one on northern Illinois tollways and one south of Interstate 80. The van's first deployment in the Metro East area near St. Louis will be along Interstate 64 in St. Clair County.
State police estimate that for every ticket a trooper could issue in the traditional manner, the new vans will be able to issue 16 tickets.
Tickets mailed to alleged speeders will include a wide-angle shot of the vehicle, a picture of the license plate, a picture of the driver's face, location, actual speed and posted speed limit.
The vans originally were to have been deployed last July, but Darko said evaluating bids from vendors and contract details delayed the start.
As part of the program, Dallas-based ACS State and Local Solutions will charge the state $2,950 a month for the vans, plus a processing fee of $15 per ticket.
In areas where the vans will be stationed, Darko said, signs will be posted about one mile ahead of photo-enforcement zones alerting motorists that radar looms. About half a mile from the work zone, motorists should be able to read their speed on a lighted indicator board atop the vans.
"You really have to be not paying attention to get a citation," Darko said.
Although law enforcers say cameras are the most efficient way to catch dangerous drivers and criminals, some argue that the cameras are an unwarranted invasion of privacy by the government.