WEST CHESTER >> A bill that would allow municipal police departments to enforce speed limits with radar has advanced in the state legislature, and local officials are urging lawmakers to pass it into law.
“We are in a position today to actually move this thing forward,” said Jordan Norley of West Chester, chairman of the Chester County Mayor’s Association. “There is a lot of support in the Senate for this.”
The Chester County Mayor’s Association last week adopted a resolution in support of Senate Bill 251 which would enable all municipal police officers to use the same motor vehicle speed-timing equipment as the Pennsylvania state police. All 15 mayors in Chester County support the resolution, as well as just about every major law enforcement in the state, Norley said.
Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation that prohibits municipal police from using radar to catch speeders. Local police are limited to using cumbersome speed-timing systems which calculates how long it takes a vehicle to pass between tow marked points on the road.
Expanding radar use beyond state police has failed to pass for more than 50 years, but now, officials are optimistic they will get Rep. John Taylor’s (R-177th Dist.) out of the House Transportation Committee.
“Pennsylvania is number one in speed-related fatalities,” Norley said. “And a lot of that is on local roads.”
Norley is right on target. In 2015, according to statistics compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Pennsylvania had the fourth-highest number of speeding-related fatalities and the second highest percentage of speeding-related fatalities, and the second highest number of speeding-related fatalities on local roadways in the country.
Colonel Tyree C. Blocker, who was nominated by Governor Tom Wolf to serve as the 22nd Commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police, believes arming municipal police with radar will help to cut down on the number of fatalities.
Tom McCarey, who represents the National Motorists Association, is urging lawmakers to vote down Senate Bill 251, which he terms a “Speed Trap Bill.”
The Federal Highway Safety Administration found that 90 percent of the time, speed limits are posted 8 to 16 miles per hour below the safety speed,” McCarey ssaid. “Because politicians respond to complaints from uninformed and misled constituents about speeders, they push for arming all police statewide with radar guns, while keeping limits too low.”
McCarey said radar guns in the hands of municipal police will not improve highway safety.
“Fifty years of government propaganda and misinformation about highway safety makes it easy for our elected officials to declare that unless we give local police radar guns, everybody is going to die,” he said. “And far too many otherwise reasonable people agree so that in the end, the special interests who profit from radar, the radar manufacturers, the government, the police and the courts, get their go-ahead to unfairly tax drivers.”
But Norley said he is confident municipal police will not use radar to generate profit.
“Our law enforcement throughout the state is extremely professional,” said Norley, a former West Chester councilman. “I’ve seen it first-hand. For there to be an argument that our police will act in some unprofessional manner, it’s a lack of understanding of who are police are and how police organizations are run.”
An analysis of the speeding fatalities in Pennsylvania by roadway function in 2015, shows the rural and urban interstates and the non-interstate freeways and expressways, where the maximum speed limits are primarily enforced by Pennsylvania State Police using radar, account for only 13.6 percent of the speeding-related fatalities. Conversely, on all other classes of roadways, where municipal police, to varying degrees, enforce the maximum speed limits using speed-timing equipment that is inferior to radar and unusable on many roadways because of their slopes and curvatures, the speeding-related fatalities were, on average five times higher.
Norley agrees that radar use by municipal police will generate more traffic citations.
“There would be more enforcement, that is a reality, and that will change (motorists’) behavior,” Norley said. “That’s a good thing, not a bad thing. Allowing a level playing field with law enforcement to do their job will affect the behavior of motorist, and therefore cut down on the number of fatalities.”
Taylor has also introduced legislation to reduce vehicle speeds on Roosevelt Boulevard (U.S. Route 1) through the use of photo radar devices.