Safety initiatives popular topic at statehouses

| Friday, July 22, 2011

While the majority of states have wrapped up their legislative work for the year, about 10 states continue to meet. Among the topics drawing consideration at statehouses are bills that cover safety initiatives.

Multiple bills are up for consideration in Pennsylvania to drop the state’s distinction as the only state to prohibit local police to use radar to nab speeders.

If changes are approved, local, full-time police officers who work for “full-service police departments” in counties with populations of at least 210,000 would have the option of adopting an ordinance to approve radar use.

To guard against cities setting up speed traps, the bill would require local departments to send citation revenue that exceeds 5 percent of the total municipal budget, or 5 percent of the regional police department budget, to the state.

Also in the Keystone State, a bill – HB821 – would allow Pittsburgh and other cities to post red-light cameras. Philadelphia already has cameras posted around the city.

Across the country in California, a bill is intended to help ensure that communities use red-light cameras to improve safety, not to fill coffers. SB29 would regulate use of the ticket cameras by establishing statewide standards for installation and operation.

Before communities can install cameras, they must show that “the system is needed at a specific location for reasons related to safety.”

The bill would also require local governments to better warn drivers that the cameras are in use.

Critics of automated enforcement say advance warning signs would go a long way to virtually solve the red-light running problem – in California and elsewhere.

Issues that address driver distractions are also getting attention. Halfway through the Pennsylvania statehouse is a bill to make text messaging and talking on hand-held cell phones by drivers a primary offense, which would authorize police to pull over drivers solely for distracted driving.

Ohio and California lawmakers are also discussing texting while driving. The Ohio House has approved a bill to set up a statewide ban on the practice.

In California, a bill would increase fines for texting or talking on a hand-held phone while driving. Also targeted by the bill are bicyclists. Texting while biking could result in fines.

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