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Radar guns a hot-button Pennsylvania political issue

Pennsylvania remains the only state where municipal police aren't legally allowed to use radar; that privilege extends only to the state police.

By ANDREW SCOTT
The Associated Press

6/17/2014

STROUDSBURG, Pa. — As state Rep. Mario Scavello and others continue to advance proposed legislation to arm municipal police with radar, some say the speed enforcement tool in the hands of local police would be ineffective and inaccurate.

Pennsylvania remains the only state where municipal police aren't legally allowed to use radar; that privilege extends only to the state police.

Scavello said state Rep. Nicholas Micozzie, who chairs the state House Transportation Committee, plans to hold a public hearing on Scavello's proposed legislation in Delaware County, which Micozzie represents, similar to the May hearing Scavello held at Shawnee Inn.

He said Micozzie then plans to hold another hearing before the state House in Harrisburg, after which Scavello hopes the proposal will go before the state Senate.

"We're closer than we've ever been to hopefully getting this passed," Scavello said.

But some hope the proposal will make it no further.

Founded in 1982 and based near Madison, Wisconsin, the National Motorists Association works to represent and protect motorists' rights and interests.

"The checks and balances for ensuring proper radar maintenance, use and accuracy are much weaker at the municipal police level than they are at the state police level," said NMA Communications Manager John Bowman. "Widespread radar use tends to result in predatory speed traps. This makes generating speeding ticket revenue the main goal, as opposed to maintaining highway safety. It's even worse if those radar readings are inaccurate because one vehicle is mistaken for speeding when traveling too closely to another vehicle that's truly speeding."

Scavello insists it's about saving lives, not making money.

"My main concern is protecting pedestrians, especially in the more congested areas, from speeding motorists," he said. "It's a lot harder for municipal police to set up other speed-measuring technology, like VASCAR, than it is to set up radar near these congested areas. The idea is that motorists will be deterred from going above the speed limit if they see police out with radar while approaching these higher-pedestrian-traffic areas."

Bowman called this a moot point since "motorists tend to slow down in more congested areas anyway."

William Parrish, chief of Stroud Area Regional Police covering Stroudsburg and East Stroudsburg boroughs and Stroud Township, agrees radar would be more efficient than what SARP now uses.

"We need the best technology available to accomplish the mission of reducing the number of accidents as well as the severity of accident-related injuries," said Parrish. "As of right now, if we see a motorist who appears to be violating the speed limit, we have to follow in a marked car for at least three-tenths of a mile, just to confirm they're in fact going too fast, before we can pull them over and write them a ticket."

A second way in which SARP confirms speed limit violations is by painting two white lines on a stretch of road, starting a stop watch when a car passes the first line, stopping the watch when the car passes the second line and then using that time to calculate the car's speed, Parrish said.

A third way is using an electronic non-radar device consisting of two three-foot-long rectangular boxes set up on both sides of the road, Parrish said.

The boxes shoot two electronic beams, one from each end, at each other. A computerized timer is activated when a car passes the first beam and calculates the speed after the car passes the second beam.

All three of these methods are too cumbersome, Parrish said.

The stopwatch method can be used only on straight roads, with clear sight distances in both directions, while the electronic non-radar method requires two officers to set up, he said. Both methods require one police car to time the speeder and another to pursue.

"Radar, on the other hand, can be used almost anywhere, is far less cumbersome to set up and requires only one officer to use," Parrish said. "The trick is doing some preparation work in advance to ensure accuracy and prevent erroneous speed measurement readings."

Though Pennsylvania's municipal police aren't legally allowed to have radar, Parrish said SARP currently uses radar as part of a computerized "stealth stat device" not to directly enforce speed limits, but to help determine which roads have problem speeding areas needing attention.

The device is set up and left on a certain road for a number of days to measure speeds of passing vehicles.

There are also electronic display signs set up next to posted speed limit signs, Parrish said. These electronic signs display the speeds of passing vehicles so that drivers can see how fast they're going and whether they need to slow down.

While radar makes better sense to some, others see more logic in reducing the number of crashes by raising speed limits to more reasonable standards.

"One problem with the proposed municipal police radar bills is that they do not require speed limits be set to the 85th-percentile free-flowing traffic speed, which is an engineering standard," said James Sikorski Jr., who attended Scavello's May hearing.

This standard is based on the theory that most drivers are reasonable and prudent in reaching their destinations in the shortest time possible without crashing, according to the Texas Department of Transportation website's driver safety manual section.

The theory advocates "a speed, at or below which 85 percent of people drive at any given location under good weather and visibility conditions, may be considered as the maximum safe speed for that location," according to this section.

"The speed limits currently being too low cause more crashes due to tailgating, rapid lane changes, quickly approaching cars ahead, road rage, aggressive driving, etc.," said Sikorski. "Instead of just driving safely, people become very nervous, stare at speedometers instead of the road and look for speed traps. This creates a huge distraction. Traffic would flow better if speed limits were higher."

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Andrew Scott writes for the Pocono Record, http://www.poconorecord.com/


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