Pennsylvania bills call for local speed radar use

May 19, 2021

Keith Goble

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Multiple bills in the Pennsylvania statehouse would open the door for local police departments to use speed radar cameras.

Pennsylvania is the lone state to prohibit municipal police from enforcing speed limits with radar. Since 1961 in the Keystone State, only state troopers are allowed to use radar.

One bill approved by the House Transportation Committee would permit municipal police officers to use radar to ticket speeders.

Currently, local police are limited to enforcement tools such as VASCAR, which determines a vehicle’s speed by measuring the time it takes to move between two points.

Officials with the Pennsylvania State Police have said that radar is the most effective and accurate speed-control device available. Local police, however, are not permitted to use the enforcement tool.

Need questioned

Thomas McCarey of the National Motorists Association and others say that giving municipal police access to the enforcement tool could result in speed traps and departments raking in revenue from tickets.

“Tickets cost north of $170. The money that doesn’t go to the municipalities will go to the Commonwealth,” McCarey wrote in comments on the bill. “The Legislature has an enormous financial stake in voting in favor of radar for municipal police.”

Instead, he says the state would be better served to follow the 85th percentile speed rule – the speed at or below which 85% of vehicles travel in free-flowing traffic.

Details of speed radar legislation

The bill awaiting consideration on the House floor includes a requirement for municipalities to first pass an ordinance allowing the use of radar.

Sponsored by Rep. Greg Rothman, R-Mechanicsburg, HB606 would authorize local police to issue tickets only if the offending driving has a recorded speed at least 10 miles over the posted speed limit.

Additionally, revenue collected from speeding tickets could not exceed 1% of a municipality’s annual budget. Any revenue raised exceeding the cap would go to the state’s motor license fund.

Sen. Mario Scavello, R-Monroe, has introduced the same bill in the Senate. The lawmaker says the rule change is long overdue.

“Only the State Police are currently authorized to use radar,” Scavello wrote in a memo to lawmakers. “It is ironic that we don’t allow municipal police to utilize radar, however, we do allow certain municipalities to utilize red light camera systems.”

Scavello’s bill, SB419, is in the Senate Transportation Committee.

Related efforts

A similar bill in the House Transportation Committee would limit use of radar to full-time officers of a full-service police department.

Sponsored by Rep. Kurt Masser, R-Northumberland, HB1212 would not require an ordinance to be approved for the use of radar. Violators must be found exceeding the posted speed by at least 10 mph to be ticketed. A 120-day warning period is included.

One more Senate bill would permit local police departments to use radar only after the locality adopts an ordinance permitting use of radar devices.

Sen. Steve Santarsiero, D-Lower Makefield, says authorizing local use of the devices would “ensure local law enforcement has the same access to the most reliable speed-timing devices in use today.”

His bill, SB544, is in the Senate Transportation Committee.

Calibration testing

Another bill in the House Transportation Committee addresses the use of speed timing devices.

Pennsylvania statute requires radar and speedometers to be on a calibration cycle of one year. Electronic timing devices, however, are on a calibration cycle of 60 days.

Sponsored by Rep. Jeff Wheeland, R-Lycoming, HB802 would extend the calibration testing cycle for nonradar speed timing devices to one year.

Wheeland noted the change would provide for electronic certification of calibration testing. LL

More Land Line coverage of news from Pennsylvania.

J.J. Keller

Keith Goble has been covering trucking-related laws since 2000. His daily web reports, radio news and “OOIDA’s State Watch” in Land Line Magazine are the industry’s premier sources for information regarding state legislative affairs.