Pennsylvania bills tap cameras, stiff penalties to make work zones safer

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 9/23/2015

State lawmakers in Pennsylvania are pursuing changes that they believe would improve safety in active work zones throughout the state.

In 2014, there were 1,841 crashes that resulted in 24 deaths in work zones throughout Pennsylvania – up from 16 the previous year.

The Senate and House transportation committees met recently to discuss a bill to set up a five-year pilot program for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to post speed cameras in active work zones on interstates and the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

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, said all revenue from the cameras would be applied for work-zone safety improvements. He also said that a similar program in Maryland reduced speeding in work zones by 85 percent.

Robert Latham, executive vice president of the Associated Pennsylvania Constructors, said the goal of the program is to alter the driving behaviors of people who feel compelled to drive at a high rate of speed through work zones.

“They are a menace to themselves, they’re a menace to fellow drivers, and of course they’re a menace to people who are trying to make a living improving the infrastructure of the Commonwealth,” Latham said.

At the end of the trial period PennDOT would provide a report to the General Assembly to assess whether to continue the program.

Critics 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.

The bill, SB840, awaits further consideration in the Senate Transportation Committee.

The Senate approved a separate bill to toughen penalties for distracted or aggressive driving in construction zones. It has moved to the House.

Highway users driving carelessly in work zones would face fines and penalties in excess of $1,000. Offenders who endanger highway workers face $5,000 fines and a six-month license suspension. Violators who cause the death of a worker would be responsible for a fine up to $10,000 and loss of driving privileges for one year.

Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Washington, called the frequency of incidents in work zones “troubling.”

“I am hopeful that strengthening the penalties for reckless drivers in work zones will help limit the dangers faced by the men and women who help maintain our vital infrastructure.”

SB887 awaits further debate in the House Transportation Committee.

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

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