Pennsylvania bills permit local speed radar use, cameras in work zones

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 2/7/2017

Speed radar use by local police in Pennsylvania and access to speed camera enforcement in work zones are among the issues getting attention at the statehouse.

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.

Sen. Randy Vulakovich, R-Allegheny, Sen. John Rafferty, R-Montgomery, and Rep. Harry Readshaw, D-Carrick, have introduced bills in their respective chambers that would change the state’s distinction.

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, says 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.

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

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.

SB279 specifies that 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.

SB251 and SB279 are scheduled for discussion in a Senate Transportation Committee hearing on Wednesday, Feb. 8. Readshaw’s bill, HB43, is in the House Transportation Committee.

The Senate Transportation Committee has approved another piece of legislation that 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.

Opponents 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 said the “nickel-and-diming” of Pennsylvania drivers needs to stop.

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 – to keep traffic moving in as safe a manner as possible.

SB172 awaits further consideration in the Senate.

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

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