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Cameras proposed to deter speeding in Pennsylvania work zones

| Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2016, 11:45 p.m.
A radar message sign informs drivers of their speed as they pass through a construction zone on Route 65 near Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2016.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
A radar message sign informs drivers of their speed as they pass through a construction zone on Route 65 near Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2016.

A bill awaiting action in the state Senate aims to impose $100 fines against motorists caught on camera speeding through active PennDOT and turnpike work zones.

Opponents of similar measures in other states have contended automated speed enforcement systems can be misused and sow distrust between government and citizens. But proponents say Pennsylvania legislation is about one thing: making work zones safer for construction crews and drivers alike.

“This is a bill that hopefully will encourage people through a little stick instead of carrot approach to get them to slow down,” Associated Pennsylvania Constructors Executive Vice President Bob Latham said.

Senate Bill 840, sponsored by Sens. David Argall, R-Schuylkill County, and Judy Schwank, D-Berks County, would create a five-year pilot program during which vehicles detected going 11 mph over posted speed limits in PennDOT and Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission highway work zones would be automatically photographed. Images of license plates would then be used to issue the vehicle's registered owner a $100 fine.

Turnpike and PennDOT officials support the proposal, and Jon Hopcraft, executive director of Argall's office, said a similar law in Maryland lowered work zone speeding by 85 percent over a five-year period.

But construction zone speeding cameras have caused controversy in other parts of the country. Indiana state lawmakers in 2015 dumped an automated enforcement law over concerns that traffic cameras turn everyday travel into a ‘gotcha' relationship between motorists and government, according to The Times of Northwest Indiana.

The Washington Post reported in 2010 that motorists in Washington, D.C., were issued nearly 15,000 camera-generated tickets at a particular work zone between mid-August and the end of October 2010, including several tickets after construction in the area concluded.

Supporters of Pennsylvania's bill said the measure includes safeguards to protect drivers' rights. Warning signs would appear before camera enforcement zones, and vehicle owners who face fines would be able to appeal their penalty to a hearing officer.

Appeals could be an option for owners who are fined if someone else is caught speeding in their vehicle, though Latham said he didn't expect that issue to be widespread.

“What we've seen in other states is at first a number of people get ticketed, then as word gets out, people slow down and the number of citations drop,” he said.

Maryland cited about 828,000 drivers during the first 30 months it operated automated cameras.

“Assuming the Commonwealth would experience a similar number of violations, a $100 fine would generate $33.1 million annually,” a Senate Appropriations Committee report states.

The report estimates the pilot program would cost between $1.25 million and $2.25 million. Fines would go into the Motor License Fund, which pays for roads and bridges but can fund other things, including work zone safety.

Hopcraft said the legislation's backers hope to see the Senate take up the bill after it reconvenes in Harrisburg in September.

Michael Walton is a Tribune-Review staff writer. He can be reached at 412-380-5627 or mwalton@tribweb.com.

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