Pennsylvania bills to permit local speed radar use clear committee

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Two bills moving forward in the Pennsylvania Senate would authorize speed radar use by local police.

Pennsylvania is the only state in the country that prohibits municipal police from enforcing speed limits with radar. Since 1961, only state troopers are allowed to use radar.

The Senate Transportation Committee voted overwhelmingly to advance bills that would change the state’s distinction. Sponsored by Sen. Randy Vulakovich, R-Allegheny, and Sen. John Rafferty, R-Montgomery, the measures would permit local police officers to use radar to nab speeders.

Currently, local police are limited to electronic tools such as VASCAR, which determines a vehicle’s speed by measuring the time it takes to move between two points.

The Pennsylvania State Police has said that radar is the most effective and accurate speed-control device available; however, local police departments have not been permitted to use the enforcement tool.

Efforts to expand radar use in the state historically have struggled as opponents say the enforcement tool could be used to set up speed traps and rake in revenue from tickets.

Vulakovich’s bill, SB251, includes a requirement for municipalities to first pass an ordinance allowing the use of radar. Points would be assigned only if the speed recorded is at least 10 miles over the speed limit.

SB251 specifies revenue from speeding tickets that exceeds 20 percent of the total municipal budget, or 20 percent of the regional police department budget, would be sent to the state’s General Fund.

Rafferty’s bill – SB279 – specifies that use of speed radar by local law enforcement would be limited to “trained officers” in Philadelphia, Allegheny, Bucks, Delaware and Montgomery counties. Twelve more counties in the third class (populations between 210,000 and 499,999) would also be permitted to use the technology.

Revenue from speeding tickets that exceeds 5 percent of the total municipal budget, or 5 percent of the regional police department budget, would be routed to the Pennsylvania State Police.

Identical to SB251, no points would be added to an operator’s license unless the speed recorded is at least 10 mph in excess of the posted speed limit.

A separate bill approved by the Senate Transportation Committee covers the use of speed cameras in active work zones on interstates and the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Specifically, SB172 would set up a five-year pilot program for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and the Turnpike Commission to post speed cameras.

Automated enforcement cameras would be used to detect drivers exceeding the posted speed limit by at least 11 mph when workers are present. Registered owners of vehicles found in violation would receive $100 fines in the mail. No points would be added to a driver’s record.

Sen. David Argall, R-Schuylkill, says changes are needed to driver behavior in work zones and hopefully remind motorists to slow down in affected areas. He highlights figures from 2015 that show there were 1,935 crashes in Pennsylvania work zones, including 23 deaths.

A legislative analysis of the bill reports the cameras could raise $33.1 million annually with the majority of revenue routed to the state’s Motor License Fund.

Opponents say instead of resorting to automated enforcement cameras they would rather see police officers posted in work zones. They also note that officers can monitor other dangerous driving behaviors.

Critics also question the accuracy of speed cameras.

Tom McCarey, a member of the National Motorists Association, says ticket cameras instead are aimed right at drivers’ wallets. He cautions state lawmakers that enacting the legislation “will spawn a huge increase in speed traps in cash-strapped municipalities desperate for more money at the expense of highway safety.”

Others add that the state would be better off to require best-practice engineering and to ban use of the ticketing devices.

OOIDA officials say the focus on the revenue-generating devices ignores the more logical and reasoned approach to roads and traffic: keep traffic moving in as safe a manner as possible.

All three bills await consideration on the Senate floor.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Pennsylvania, click here.

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