GUEST EDITORIAL: Let local Pa. police use radar guns

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (AP)
York Area Regional Police Officers James Hess Jr., front, and Michael Schiffhauer monitor traffic along Cape Horn Road at Skylight Drive using ENRADD, a non radar speed detection system, in Windsor Township, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019. Hess, a 17-year veteran with the department, says motor vehicle accidents occur frequently in the area. Dawn J. Sagert photo

In an age of technological wonder, Pennsylvania stands alone as a modern-day Luddite when it comes to how local police departments are expected to enforce speed limits.

It is the only state in the nation that prohibits municipal police from using radar for speed enforcement. And it’s not as if radar guns are some new untested technology; state police have been utilizing radar guns since the 1960s, so there is more than 50 years of evidence showing its reliability and effectiveness.

Opponents of its use claim local police would use the devices as a means of boosting municipal revenues. They have successfully lobbied against its spread to municipal police forces. So, local police have been reduced to using archaic tools to enforce speed limits, such as painted lines on a road section, a stopwatch and calculations.

In Pennsylvania, we can use a radar gun to measure the speed of a thrown pitch at a baseball park, but municipal police can’t use it to enforce the speed limit in a neighborhood. What sense does this make?

There may be change in the wind. The state House Transportation Committee recently approved — by a vote of 25 to 0 — a bill that would allow municipal police to use radar.

The proposal does come with several conditions aimed at addressing opponents’ concerns, chief among them being the argument that radar would be used by municipalities as a moneymaking venture. The bill would limit total cash receipts from speeding fines to an amount no greater than 10% of a municipality’s annual budget. Any excess would be directed to the state’s Motor License Fund to be used for road and bridge improvement and state police operations.

The municipality would have to adopt an ordinance authorizing its use and place signs on roads leading into the community to alert motorists of radar use.

It would also stipulate that in areas where the speed limit is less than 55 mph, citations could be issued only for vehicles exceeding the limit by at least 10 mph. That’s a nod to opponents of radar use who worry about a flurry of citations for vehicles exceeding the limit by the slightest of degrees.

The full House should follow the Transportation Committee’s overwhelming support for the bill and approve it so that the state Senate can follow suit. A similar measure was approved there in 2019 by a 49 to 1 vote.

Radar devices have been available for half a century. It’s long past time that Pennsylvania joined the rest of the country in giving municipal police the technology needed for accurate speed enforcement. This benefits the motoring public as well as communities attempting to ensure safe roads.

— From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.