Pennsylvania bills cover local radar, 'call boxes' and litter

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 10/8/2013

Efforts to allow local police to use radar to nab speeders, to remove “call boxes” along the turnpike, and tolevy hefty littering fines are issues that Pennsylvania lawmakers could take up for consideration in the months ahead.

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.

Multiple House bills have been offered that would change the state’s distinction.

The first bill – HB38 – would permit local and regional police officers who work for “full-service police departments” to use radar. The second bill – HB1272 – would make available the technology for any police officer.

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.

Supporters say that radar is considered by many to be one of the most effective and accurate speed-control devices available; however, local police departments have not been permitted to use all traffic enforcement tools available.

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. Supporters counter that expanding the use of radar beyond major highways would increase safety and reduce fatalities on all the state’s streets.

Both bills are awaiting consideration in the House Transportation Committee.

Another bill in the committee could end the state’s call box program along the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Rep. John Lawrence, R-Franklin, introduced the bill in an effort to save the state money.

He wrote in a memo to lawmakers that when the service was unveiled in the early 1990s it was a “novel addition that allowed folks in need of a tow truck or police presence to summon help.”

However, Lawrence said the popularity of cellphones 20 years later makes the service unnecessary. He pointed out that the call boxes were used 18,571 times in 2000 but usage fell to 1,717 in 2012.

Lawrence said the state expense to keep the program up and running equates to about $116 per call.

HB1042 would not mandate that the program end but it would allow the Turnpike Commission to move forward with call box removal at their discretion.

One more bill is intended to raise the deterrent to littering on the state’s roadways.

State law now authorizes fines between $50 and $300 for littering. Repeat offenders face up to $1,000 fines.

Sponsored by Rep. Mario Scavello, R-Monroe, the bill would create a weight scale to determine fine amounts.

Littering up to five pounds of waste along roadways could result in $100 fines. The next threshold – up to 100 pounds – could result in fines of $500. More excessive violations would result in fines of up to $1,000.

HB45 is in the House Transportation Committee.

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

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