If you’ve been stopped by police for speeding in the last 30 years, there’s a good chance your speed was clocked by radar – unless you’re in Pennsylvania. Local cops in the Keystone State aren’t permitted to use radar guns for speed enforcement, but a proposal working its way through the Pennsylvania Legislature may change that later this year.
Senate Bill 1340 is one of several bills under consideration by Pennsylvania lawmakers that would authorize municipal law enforcement departments in the state to use radar. Currently only state police have that privilege. If one of the measures addressing the issue passes, it would end Pennsylvania’s run as the only state that bans local police officers from using the technology.
The issue has been polarizing in the state, with opponents believing radar guns are about generating revenue instead of a genuine safety measure. Proponents, on the other hand, say the technology will enable officers to more accurately detect speed infractions, save lives and increase efficiency.
Efforts to get similar radar-use laws on the books have failed over the years, as local police continue to rely on old-school methods such as stopwatches and painted lines on streets to judge who is speeding. But Sen. Randy Vulakovich, R-Allegheny, one of the primary sponsors of SB 1340 and a former police officer in Shaler Township, Pa., feels legislation will pass this time around, thanks in-part to the support coming from state police and the fact that speeding is one of the biggest complaints police departments are receiving from citizens.
“With radar, you can point, click, read and make your decision,” Vulakovich said. “And if you get a call, you can set the radar gun on the seat next to you, proceed to the call, and then come back. So it’s actually a great asset for local departments to satisfy … speeding complaints and also be time effective.”
Opponents of radar-use aren’t buying it, however. They continue to bang the drum that enabling municipal law enforcement officers to use radar guns is purely a revenue-generation tactic. Vulakovich scoffed at the notion, however, pointing out that tickets don’t generate a lot of money due to fine reductions and appeals. He said the average speeding ticket fine is $35, half of which goes to the locality.
In addition, Vulakovich doesn’t believe arming local police with radar guns would increase the amount of tickets significantly. He explained that if you consider the time it takes for an officer to get the reading on the radar, pull the person over, check the person’s cards and issue the citation, it could take up to 25 minutes. So he felt an uptick in tickets would be nominal, at best.
James Sikorski, Jr., a Pennsylvania member of the National Motorists Association (NMA), is one of the bill’s opponents, and he believes that traffic safety goals could instead be achieved by setting proper speed limits. Sikorski noted that the legislative proposals under consideration in Pennsylvania do not require reliance on the 85th-percentile free-flowing traffic operating speed -- an engineering standard used by many states and regions to determine speed limits.
The NMA’s main gripe, according to Sikorski, is that if current speed limits in communities are seriously enforced by radar, it will cause crashes and ticket safe drivers.
“I have raised these issues for years with elected officials and media, but they brush it off because if my engineering ideas were implemented, there would be no revenue in this,” Sikorski said. “Pennsylvania is broke, which is the driver behind this.”
Vulakovich wasn’t buying Sikorski’s rationale. He admitted that limits such as 25 MPH are slow, but said that if you raise a limit by 10 MPH, drivers will still go faster than what is posted, calling it “human nature.”
At press time, SB 1340 was located in the Pennsylvania Senate Transportation Committee, where it has resided since April. Vulakovich felt the concerns that radar guns would become “some big money-maker" for communities were dispelled in previous informational hearings on the measure. Despite the lack of movement on the bill, he remained confident that it would get through to the Senate Floor.
“There will be some little things we’ll need to compromise on,” Vulakovich said. “But I don’t want to dilute the bill too much, because it is a good bill and some of that reasoning [against it] is just Neanderthal. It holds no water.”
Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology magazine from 2011 to mid-2015.