In 2010, traffic safety camera programs in Illinois were under assault. Cameras had been operating across the state since 2006, when the legislature authorized their use. Despite their enormous success in reducing injuries and fatalities, a state senator sponsored a bill to repeal the right of municipalities to use these lifesaving tools. A small but vocal minority of camera opponents were spreading misinformation to media, decision makers, legislators and the general public.
In response, the Traffic Safety Coalition (TSC) quickly assembled a diverse group of safety advocates to conduct a vast education and advocacy program to show how traffic safety cameras are effective at deterring dangerous and illegal driving behavior. This coalition brought together law enforcement, victims’ advocates groups, pedestrian and bicyclist groups, health care professionals, local elected officials, and national traffic safety organizations, among others.
Facing opposition from misinformed members of the public and the state legislature, the Coalition worked to reshape public opinion on traffic safety cameras, highlighting the technology’s role as a tool to address reckless driving and red light running. It successfully reframed the debate to focus on the 750 red-light running fatalities and the 13,000 speed-related fatalities on U.S. roadways every year, stressing how cameras help police enforce traffic safety laws and deter drivers from breaking the law.
The Coalition developed targeted messages to appeal to legislators on each side of the safety camera debate. It countered opponents’ distorted arguments with facts showing that traffic safety cameras save lives. In addition, TSC advocated for automated enforcement though testimony and organized personal appearances at state legislative hearings on the issue.
At the grassroots level, the Traffic Safety Coalition engaged community members in outreach to legislators and local media outlets, including the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun Times, WGN and Daily Herald. It produced printed materials to explain the benefits of automated enforcement and built an interactive website. The TSC’s emotional “Respect Red” video that includes graphic crash footage, and an interview with the father of a four-year-old victim was shown in the legislative chambers in Springfield.
In the end, the bill to ban traffic safety cameras did not pass, and the Traffic Safety Coalition preserved Illinois communities’ ability to utilize safety cameras as critical tools to minimize injuries and fatalities in the state.
Since its success in Illinois, the Coalition has been incorporated as a nonprofit organization and grown in size and scope. Today, it counts more than 50 national and local groups among its partners, including the National Safety Council, Alliance for Biking and Walking, and state and local chapters of MADD and Safe Kids.
The Traffic Safety Coalition now operates across the country and runs statewide campaigns in nearly 20 states. It has successfully defeated legislative attempts to prohibit automated enforcement in half a dozen states.
The Coalition’s powerful videos, which highlight the importance of responsible driving habits and obeying intersection and speed laws, have been viewed by more than 15,000 people on YouTube. The TSC has more than 2,000 followers on Facebook and interacts with nearly 2,500 traffic safety advocates and elected officials through its national newsletter.
For more information, visit www.trafficsafetycoalition.com.