Pennsylvania local police near access to speed radar

November 21, 2019

Keith Goble


A long-failed effort in the Keystone State to authorize speed radar use by some municipal police has taken another step toward passage.

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.

The House Transportation Committee voted 22-1 to advance a Senate-approved bill to change the state’s distinction. Specifically, SB607 would allow some 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. Local police departments, however, 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. Instead, the National Motorists Association and others say municipalities should post speeds following the 85th percentile formula – the speed at or below which 85 % of vehicles travel.

Critics add that failure to make the formula change shows the state is more concerned with profits than it is with safety.

Supporters say the rule change is long overdue. They note that municipalities around the state already are allowed to use red-light cameras to curtail unsafe driving.

The bill includes a requirement for municipalities to first pass an ordinance allowing the use of radar.

A change made in the House Transportation Committee would limit use of radar detectors to full-time police departments. The distinction would leave out about 200 part-time police departments around the state.

As introduced, the bill specified that revenue collected from speeding tickets could not exceed 20% of the municipal budget.

A change made in committee reduces the threshold to 10% of the local budget. Any amount in of excess would be routed to the state’s Motor License Fund.

The fund pays for road and bridge improvements, as well as state police operations.

SB607 now moves to the House floor. If approved there, it would head back to the Senate for approval of changes before it can go to the governor’s desk.

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