Pennsylvania lawmaker pushes for new nonradar speed timing device rules

November 11, 2021

Keith Goble


The use of speed timing devices in Pennsylvania is getting attention at the statehouse.

The House Transportation Committee voted unanimously on Wednesday to advance a bill that is touted to address inconsistency in radar and speedometer calibration cycle requirements.

In 2009, the state of Pennsylvania changed the calibration cycle for radar and police cruiser speedometers from 60 days to one year.

Electronic timing devices used by local police that include VASCAR were not included in the change. The enforcement tool determines a vehicle’s speed by measuring the time it takes to move between two points.

Rep. Jeff Wheeland, R-Lycoming, told the committee that not including electronic timing devices in the rule change over a decade ago was an oversight.

In an effort to harmonize the rules, Wheeland introduced HB802 to extend the calibration testing cycle for nonradar speed timing devices to one year.

Two sides of issue

Wheeland says the change is common sense because electronic timing devices are able to withstand longer calibration cycles.

He adds that costs associated for municipalities to get the devices calibrated on a regular basis is expensive, and it can be a hassle depending on how far away a municipality is located from one of the state’s five calibration sites.

Critics say the current 60-day requirement is sufficient. Extending the calibration cycle would likely result in more errors, they say. Additionally, opponents say uncalibrated speed-timing devices would result in an increased frequency of tickets being issued.

Wheeland said in this case the term recalibration is a misapplied designation.

“As we all know electronic devices typically either work or they don’t work. You either fix them or replace them,” Wheeland testified. “There is no recalibration on them.”

Wheeland added that his legislation was approved by the Senate two years ago, but speed radar language added to the bill ultimately derailed his pursuit. He asked legislators to keep his bill free from changes that include speed radar use.

The bill’s next stop is the House floor.

Speed radar pursuit

Multiple bills in the 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 full Senate would permit municipal police officers to use radar to ticket speeders.

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.

Concern voiced

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 about 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.

Legislative details

Sponsored by Sen. Mario Scavello, R-Monroe, the bill includes a requirement for municipalities to first pass an ordinance allowing the use of radar.

SB419 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.

Scavello 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.”

SB419 is in the Senate Transportation Committee. LL

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