It still needs to pass the State House and receive the governor’s signature.
A bill allowing municipal police across Pennsylvania to use radar guns for speed enforcement details passed the state Senate Tuesday on a 49-1 vote.
Pennsylvania is currently the only state in the nation that limits the use of radar exclusively to its state police. That’s a sore spot for many municipal officials and police chiefs, who feel they are handicapped in monitoring speeding in residential zones and local roads where speeders can really raise the risk of an accident.
But it’s also been a treasured, 60-year-old safeguard for some motorists. Critics have worried that those same municipal officers would take advantage of the new tool to balance their budgets by issuing lots of tickets.
There are some careful conditions built into Sen. Mario Scavello’s bill, which now moves to the state House for further consideration.
First, in an attempt to defuse the longstanding concern about policing for profit, the bill says that no municipality could receive more than 10 percent of its annual municipal budget from the local share of speeding ticket fines. Any dollars received in excess of that cap would revert to the state Treasury, to help fund the recruitment and training of future Pennsylvania State Police cadet classes.
Scavello, R-Monroe County, would also require any municipality that wants to use radar to first adopt an ordinance authorizing its use in that community, and get officers certified in use of the equipment. It would then have to post warning signs on any “main arteries” entering into its jurisdiction that radar enforcement is used there, and for the first 90 days only warnings could be issued.
The devices could not be used within 500 feet of any sign that denotes a reduction in a speed limit.
And finally, the bill modifies existing wiggle room language by codifying that for any speeding citation to be issued based on radar readings, the violation as recorded must be at least 10 miles over the posted speed limit for the street or road in question, or, on interstate highways with a posted speed limit of 70 miles per hour, at least six miles over that limit.
That latitude goes away, however, in posted school or work zones.
Scavello said he thinks the measure strikes a fair balance between the desire of police chiefs and municipal officials to better enforce traffic safety in their cities and towns – which are much more likely to have pedestrian traffic than the highways that state police patrol – and worries about abuse of power.
The issue has been considered in numerous past legislative sessions, but never passed.
Earlier this year, however, the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association, the union representing members of the Pennsylvania State Police and typically a strong voice on public safety issues, lent its support to a similar bill sponsored by Rep. Greg Rothman, R-Camp Hill. Rothman’s bill passed the House Transportation Committee this spring, but has not moved any further.
It was not immediately clear if the House will take up Scavello’s bill before breaking for the summer later this month.
There is some continuing opposition to the bills from the National Motorists Association, a grassroots organization dedicated to the preservation of drivers’ rights.
In an alert posted to members of that organization about Rothman’s bill this spring, the NMA noted that by PennDOT’s own counts, traffic fatalities in Pennsylvania reached an all-time low in 2019, a development that occurred without “municipal police being able to use RADAR for predatory speed enforcement.”
NMA member Thomas McCarey wrote that means “arming municipal police with radar guns at this time… is evidence of an agenda to give financial aid to commercial radar interests; to give financial aid to municipal governments; and to give financial aid to the state.”
According to PennDOT’s 2020 “Crash Facts and Statistics” report, 269 of the state’s reported 1,129 total fatalities that year were listed as resulting from “speed-related” accidents, or crashes where speed was considered the prime contributing factor.