Pennsylvania Legislature Considers Highway Safety Issues

Pennsylvania has a long way to go to meet national best practices for highway safety. The risk on the road is real: 1,256 people died in fatal car accidents in 2009.

Pennsylvania lawmakers are considering three bills that supporters believe will make the roads safer for all drivers. One proposal is a bill that would allow municipal police to use radar to catch drivers who speed. Another proposal would allow red light cameras statewide. And, once again, the state is trying to enact a ban on talking or texting on cell phones while driving.

Radar Use by Municipal Police

Pennsylvania is the only state in the U.S. that restricts the use of radar for detecting the speed of drivers to state troopers only, not allowing municipal police officers to do the same. House Bill 1475, now before the Pennsylvania House transportation committee, would allow full-time officers of municipal police departments of cities that have “full service” police departments to use radar. The bill would grant counties with populations of at least 210,000 the option of passing ordinances letting police use radar to detect drivers who travel at excessive speeds, which means that the bill would limit the use of radar to 16 of the state’s 67 counties.

To prevent police from setting speed traps trying to generate revenue for the individual departments, local police would need to send to the state any revenue that speeding tickets generate in excess of five percent of the municipal budget or five percent of the regional police department budget.

Advocates for the bill claim that radar is more effective and accurate than the VASCAR system police currently use, where they determine the speed of a vehicle by measuring how long it takes the vehicle to travel between two fixed points. Supporters also argue that allowing police to patrol city streets with radar will ultimately reduce the number of auto accidents.

Red Light Cameras

Another safety measure that the Pennsylvania legislature is considering is a proposal to allow cities across the state to enforce red light traffic laws with the use of cameras. The bill would allow individual cities to pass ordinances to install the cameras at intersections, and violators caught on film would face a $100 fine. Philadelphia already uses such cameras and supporters of the measure hope that if the cameras are in more cities fewer drivers will attempt to run red lights, causing fewer accidents.

Distracted Driving

The final area that the Pennsylvania legislature is addressing is how drivers distracted by technology make the roads less safe. Two different versions of a distracted driving measure are currently in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. The first House bill would cover all forms of distracted driving, creating a new category of offense called “careless driving” for such activities as eating, drinking or reading. Careless driving would be a secondary offense under this proposal, meaning that a police officer would need to pull a driver over for a different offense, not distracted driving on its own. Drivers would face a $50 fine for careless driving offenses in addition to the fines for other infractions. If a careless driving offense resulted in injury, fines would increase.

The Senate approved a bill specifically targeting texting and talking on hand-held cellular phones, which the House is also now considering. The bill would make talking or texting a primary offense, meaning that police officers could pull drivers over for just that offense. Violators of the law would face a $100 fine.

If the bill passes the House, Pennsylvania will join the 34 other states that ban texting while driving. Some Pennsylvania municipalities have already passed their own bans on texting and driving. Past attempts at a statewide ban on texting while driving in Pennsylvania have failed for a variety of reasons, including legislators attempting to add too many other provisions to the bill and lawmakers’ inability to agree on whether it should be a primary or secondary offense.

Supporters of the bill argue that addressing this increasingly common form of distracted driving will reduce the number of vehicle accidents measurably by forcing people to take their eyes off their phones and keep them on the road.

Making Road Safety a Priority

Motor vehicle accidents can be devastating and cause lasting damage. In order to prevent them, laws and safety tools are important. So is individual responsibility by everyone who shares the road in Pennsylvania.

If you have been injured in an auto accident due to another driver’s carelessness, do not hesitate to contact an experienced lawyer who can discuss your situation with you and advise you of your options.