Pennsylvania Senate panel advances local speed radar use

June 13, 2019

Keith Goble

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Pursuit continues at the Pennsylvania statehouse to authorize speed radar use by municipal police.

In 2017, Senators voted in favor of nearly identical legislation. The bill failed to win support in the House. So far this year at least five bills have been introduced to authorize the enforcement tool.

Pennsylvania is the only state in the country that prohibits municipal police from enforcing speed limits with radar. Since 1961, only state troopers have been allowed to use radar.

The Senate Transportation Committee voted unanimously on Wednesday, June 12, to advance a bill to change that distinction.

Sponsored by Sen. Mario Scavello, R-Monroe, SB607 would allow 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. 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.

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

Drivers would be ticketed only if the speed recorded is at least 10 miles over the posted speed limit. On an interstate highway with a posted speed of at least 70 mph, the ticket threshold would be 5 mph over the limit.

Revenue collected from speeding tickets could not exceed 20% of the municipal budget. Any amount in excess of 20% would be routed to the state’s Motor License Fund.

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

Scavello says the rule change is long overdue.

“For the last 58 years, Pennsylvania has reserved radar technology for state troopers,” Scavello wrote in a memo to Senate lawmakers. He added that it is time to “ensure local law enforcement has the same access to the most reliable speed-timing devices in use today.”

The bill awaits further consideration in the Senate.

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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.