Speeders beware: More radar enforcement may be on the way

Written by Joel Shannon and Ted Czech/York Daily Record | Apr 14, 2017 3:07 PM

Photo by Wikicommons user Loadmaster

(York) -- It could soon become a lot easier for local police to crack down on speeding.

Pennsylvania is the only state that does not allow municipal law enforcement to use radar, but if new bipartisan legislation passes, that could change. Currently, the Pennsylvania State Police are allowed to use the tool for speeding enforcement.

Supporters of the bill believe this unusual policy leads to a high number of speeding-related fatalities.

Forty-five percent of Pennsylvania's traffic fatalities are speeding-related compared to the national average of 29 percent, according to 2013 federal data.

"It's about time," Hellam Township Police Chief Doug Pollock said of the legislation. Pollock's York County department patrols a portion of Route 30.

"We would be able to be more effective more often if we had radar guns," he said.

Most of the alternative methods of traffic enforcement either require more than one officer to operate or require long stretches of straight road.

Using a radar gun, police could respond to small neighborhoods in their jurisdiction - where neighbors may have complained about speeders - and sit in a resident's driveway with a radar gun.

"We could catch every single person coming down that road speeding," Pollock said.

It isn't about the money, lawmakers claim

Not everyone believes that radar enforcement is in the best interest of drivers.

The National Motorists Association is a vocal critic.

The group is a "grassroots alliance of motorists joined together to protect our rights" that has published an e-book called "Fight that ticket." An NMA spokesperson points to speed limits - not speed limit enforcement - as the issue in Pennsylvania.

James Sikorski Jr., the PA Advocate for the NMA, calls Pennsylvania's speed limits "absurdly low," citing states that allow speed limits of 80 mph or above, like Texas.

"It has been shown that when you try to force people to deviate from the correct speed for a road you get more crashes," he said.

Sikorski believes that radar supporters are either ill-informed or have a financial stake in the issue.

But lawmakers categorically deny that money is a motivating factor.

A fiscal note for Senate Bill 535, one of two radar bills currently proposed in Pennsylvania, says the bill is unlikely to generate revenue for municipalities. Enforcement costs, including officer wages and potential court costs, are likely to cancel out the average municipal payout for a ticket, which is estimated to average less than $21.50.

Where does the rest of the money go?

"All sorts of places," said Charlie O'Neill, legislative director for Sen. Randy Vulakovich, R-Allegheny, who introduced the Senate bill.

The latest version of the bill also includes a revenue cap, according to O'Neill, which would keep municipalities from generating more than 20 percent of their revenue from fines.

That's the kind of financial disincentive the Automobile Association of America looked for in 2014, when a similar bill was introduced in Harrisburg.

It isn't a done deal

This isn't the first time Harrisburg has tried to give radar to local law enforcement.

"I'm not holding my breath," said Chief Pollock.

Even if the bill becomes law, there's still legal hoops to jump through, Chambersburg borough manager Jeff Stonehill explained.

He laid out three steps that would have to happen at the local level: The borough would need to adopt a local law to allow radar, then the borough would need to create a budget to purchase the radar, and the Chambersburg Police Department would need to adopt an internal radar enforcement policy.

Despite the legal hoops, O'Neill is optimistic, citing a nearly "universal consensus" that local radar enforcement is in the public interest.

This story is part of a partnership between WITF and the York Daily Record.

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