Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation that does not allow municipal police departments to use radar to stop speeding drivers, but State College Mayor Don Hahn wants that to change.
Hahn wrote a letter to Rep. Scott Conklin asking him to vote for two bills — House Bill 43 and House Bill 2148 — that he said could reduce Pennsylvania’s fourth place national ranking in speed-related fatalities.
"I think that there is a frustration that people tend to drive too quickly. Often times quicker than the speed limit in residential streets," Hahn said. "The lack of radar enforcement makes it more difficult to enforce or ascertain whether they're speeding or not."
State College police Lt. Barrett Smith agreed and said the department receives a number of complaints from citizens in residential areas. The current system, V-Spec, does not allow for practical enforcement in certain areas.
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V-Spec is dependent on having about 200 feet of roadway to time a vehicle. Smith said officers watch as vehicles cross a fixed point, flip a switch, watch it cross another fixed point and flip the switch again. After a series of calculations, the system tells an officer how fast a driver was going through the area.
The majority of the department’s speeding complaints and problematic areas come from school zones, shorter roadways and 25 MPH zones, according to Smith.
"We can't always get a long enough distance to put a car, to see a vehicle for that distance, to take the measurement and then do an enforcement action. Frequently we find this in neighborhood streets where maybe there are kids playing. We can't go out and do enforcement there because we don't have the line of sight for enough distance," Smith said. "One of the advantages to be able to use radar is we would be able to respond to these neighborhood complaints and do enforcement actions on streets with lower speed limits where we have less of sight distances to help out these neighborhoods that are having the problems."
There have been "quite a few" versions of the bill, according to Conklin, but it has never passed because opponents of the bill are concerned that radar is going to be used as a revenue tool or as a way to harass drivers.
If passed, the bill would require officers to complete a training course, require departments to post official warning signs indicating the use of radar, and all radar devices must be tested for accuracy within one year of an alleged violation.
"My perspective was, and still is, that this is just a useful tool that our local police stations — such as State College, Ferguson, Patton, Spring and Bellefonte — can use to keep their local citizens safe," Conklin said. "When you look at the amount of revenue that garners from a ticket that stays locally, it's such a small amount of money that it wouldn't even be feasible for a municipality to use it strictly as a revenue source."
The State College Police Department, for example, issued 1,391 speeding citations in 2010, but have issued fewer each consecutive year. The department issued 548 speeding citations last year.
Citations aren't the only form of deterrent, however.
Smith and Hahn believe drivers are more likely to observe the speed limit if they believe there is enforcement; Hahn used his background as a bankruptcy attorney to illustrate his point.
"I know that violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act occur very frequently when they think they can get away with it," Hahn said. "By the same token, I think that a police presence does help keep residential streets safer."
House Bill 43 was passed by the Pennsylvania Senate in November and is scheduled to be voted on by the House Transportation Committee before a potential vote by the House of Representatives.
Conklin said he has not yet read the bill because he is the Democratic Chairman of the Children and Youth Committee, but is prepared to vote to pass the bill if it is similar to the version he has seen in the past.
"I have no problem with entrusting our local police forces with that equipment whatsoever," Conklin said.
Conklin also said the bill would not be a state mandate forcing municipalities to use radar, but it would give them the option to use it if approved by local governments.
Smith said a radar gun costs about $1,000 to $1,500, but said that price is comparable to the V-Spec system. He also said he believes maintenance for radar would be cheaper than V-Spec.
Hahn and Conklin said they do not expect a tax or budget increase because the department could use the funds already allotted for V-Spec.
Hahn said he is hopeful the legislation can be passed and put into effect by the end of the year.
"We seem to have spent a lifetime without radar enforcement," Hahn said. "I think that we're finally getting some momentum toward putting the emphasis on safety."