Pennsylvania Senate panel advances bills to expand use of speed radar

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 5/13/2016

An effort on the move at the Pennsylvania statehouse would provide local police access to speed radar.

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 on Tuesday, May 10, to advance two bills that would change the state’s distinction. Sponsored by Sen. John Rafferty, R-Montgomery, and Sen. Randy Vulakovich, R-Allegheny, the bills 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, a former police officer, has said it is ironic that the state does not allow municipal police to use radar; however, certain municipalities are allowed to use red-light camera systems.

“Police have been asking for radar for years, and it is past time we give them that tool,” Vulakovich said during the hearing.

Rafferty provided figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showing that in 2013 the state ranked third nationally in the number of traffic fatalities. He said 87 percent of the incidents occurred on roadways where municipal police are prohibited from using speed radar.

Rafferty’s bill 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 raised from speeding tickets that exceeds 5 percent of the total municipal budget or 5 percent of the regional police department budget would be sent to the Pennsylvania State Police.

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.

Sen. John Wozniak, D-Westmont, says he has heard from local governments urging support for the effort.

“I have no problems supporting this as a device for traffic control, to slow traffic and for safety,” Wozniak said. “I caution my local governments it is not for revenue enhancement. ... It is to give local police a little more control so they can do their jobs a little better.”

Rafferty’s bill, SB559, and Vulakovich’s bill, SB535, await further consideration on the Senate floor.

Rafferty says the plan is to work with lawmakers in the weeks and months ahead to combine the efforts into one bill before taking a vote on the Senate floor.

“This is the first time in about 25 years one of these bills has moved out of committee. We will enhance the discussion and get feedback on the legislation rather than keeping it bottled up in committee. We are not fast-tracking the legislation.”

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