Will Pennsylvania soon have traffic cameras for speeding?

November 24, 2009

One general mission of the Pennsylvania State Police Department (PSP) and law enforcement organizations throughout the Commonwealth, is to enforce speeding violations in an effort to reduce the overall number of PA car accidents. More specifically, however, the department has also made, and continues to make, a concerted effort to have traffic laws in work zones, especially those traffic laws pertaining to speeding in Pennsylvania, strictly enforced.

In road construction zones in 2008, PSP issued 8,867 traffic citations, 7,359 warnings, and made 105 DUI arrests in Pennsylvania.

According to 2008 PSP and PennDOT records, 125,712 PA car accidents were reported. 1,422 of these Pennsylvania car accidents occurred in work zones and 230 of them in active school zones. As for another 2008 statistic, 25,000 people in Pennsylvania suffered car accident injuries, while 1,468 people were killed in Pennsylvania car accidents. 23 of those 1,468 car accident deaths resulted from car accidents that took place in work zones. 2 of the 23 persons killed were construction zone workers. Of the 230 school zone accidents, there was 1 fatality.

PennDOT separates speed-related car accidents into two types: (1) driving too fast for conditions and (2) speeding violations. Driving too fast for conditions was the prime cause for 23% of all PA work zone car accidents and for 17% of PA work zone car accident fatalities in 2008. Speed was a major factor in only 1% of the PA car accidents and none of the fatalities. In school zone car accidents in 2008, driving too fast for conditions was the root cause for 11% of the accidents; speeding was a factor for 2% of the crashes and the determined cause of the one school zone fatality on record.

Reducing work zone car accidents is a priority for PSP and aggressive work zone speed enforcement is one very important way PSP intend to achieve this goal. But what form is this enforcement going to take? As Pennsylvania law currently stands, automated speed enforcement is not allowed without the presence of an officer. While some Pennsylvania House Transportation Committee members are interested in exploring new legislation allowing the use of automated speed enforcement technology, such as cameras, the Bureau of Patrol for the PA State Police feels this enforcement approach has many flaws.

First, under current PA law, any radar-based camera system for speed enforcement would only be available to State Police (since radar is limited to use by State Police only). It is not the intention of the State Police to oversee enforcement of all active work zones throughout the Commonwealth, so this method falls short of allowing for participation of local law enforcement in the work zone safety endeavor. Enforcement of traffic laws in many work zones within the Commonwealth is conducted by local police.

As for alternative camera-based enforcement systems, they are used in conjunction with speed timing devices that use time/distance calculations to determine the speed of a particular vehicle. The flaw with this approach, argues the PSP, is that the photograph produced only identifies the vehicle itself (by its registration plate), not the person operating the speeding vehicle in the work zone. Pennsylvania law states that an officer issuing a citation to an individual must be able to identify that individual in court as the person who was operating the vehicle at the time of the violation.

In addition to issuing Pennsylvania speeding tickets, officers also cite motorists for offenses such as aggressive driving and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI) in work zones. If camera-based technology were employed as an enforcement method, PSP contend, it would be impossible to effectively enforce these other types of violations. For example, in April and May (2009) in a single work zone in York County, there were 1,157 PA traffic violation citations issued. Moreover, 27 PA DUI arrests and 20 criminal arrests were made in the same work zone, as well as 59 motorists being assisted by police. None of these arrests or the assists would have occurred if cameras were being used as law enforcement tools rather than live officers. Furthermore, those who were driving under the influence (DUI) would have continued to drive, endangering the lives of others on the road.

Lastly, the current proposal by state legislators calls for a fine of $100 for PA speeding tickets in an active work zone and no assessment of points to one's driver's license record. The PSP assert that the proposed fine is considerably less than current work zone fines, since fines in a work zone are automatically doubled. They feel strongly that a reduced fine for speeding, zero points, and receiving a citation in the mail, as opposed to being pulled over by a "real" cop, will not deter drivers at all from aggressively driving through work zones. If speed enforcement technology legislation is passed, State Police claim their goal of vastly reducing the number of Pennsylvania car accidents and fatal car accidents would be seriously compromised, believing that strict "on-site" enforcement methods keep residents of the Commonwealth safer than any other method.

Though the Bureau of Patrol for the Pennsylvania State Police does make some valid points, there is an equally convincing flip side to this argument. There is the strong assertion by several U.S. cities, states, and safety organizations that technology-based traffic law enforcement is very effective in curbing peoples' tendency to speed or drive recklessly when they know there are cameras watching them at lighted intersections, work zones, school zones, etc. The end result being that these technologically patrolled areas are safer for everyone. Some studies have essentially shown that surveillance begets compliance. If that is the case, PSP will realize their goal of reduced Pennsylvania car accidents in work zones. Red light cameras are currently used in 26 states and in more than 400 U.S. cities, with more municipalities looking into this speed enforcement technology every day.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has documented the effectiveness of speed cameras in reducing highway speeds and crashes. Are you aware that red light cameras are presently used in the city of Philadelphia? According to a study completed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in January 2007, cameras installed at red lights within the city reduced traffic violations by 96%.

Does the use of cameras promote better driving habits overall? Or only in the areas people know are equipped with surveillance? Collected data and careful study seem to show that traffic cameras are effective. Are these traffic cameras an intrusion into our privacy?


Drunk driver turns herself in to police…

November 18, 2009

On Saturday, October 24, a Clark County, Wisconsin woman did an extraordinary thing: she made a call to 911 and reported herself for drunk driving. In the course of the 911 call, the driver, Mary Strey, told the dispatcher, "somebody's really drunk driving down Granton Road…" The dispatcher asked, "Are you behind them…?", to which Ms. Strey answered, "I am them".

Mary Strey was about 2 miles from home when she made the call. 911 operators heeded her call and dispatched Sheriff's deputies to the scene after they asked her to pull over to the side of the road and turn on her flashers. Deputies found Ms. Strey at the scene and issued her a ticket for OWI (operating while intoxicated). She told them she had been drinking all night long. Breathalyzer test results showed her to have a blood alcohol level of 0.17, nearly double the Wisconsin legal limit.

The county Sheriff's office admits that drunken drivers reporting themselves is rare. That is certainly not surprising, and it makes one wonder if this has ever happened before anywhere in the U.S. Has it happened in Bucks County, PA?


Believe it or not: PA receives 2009 National Road Safety Award

November 11, 2009

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) received high marks from the U.S. Department of Transportation for its impaired driving program. This month U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood presented PennDOT with a 2009 National Road Safety Award.

PennDOT's award winning program educates people on the dangers of driving under the influence (DUI), removes impaired drivers from Pennsylvania road ways, and punishes motorists who are caught driving under the influence (DUI).

In 2008, police in Pennsylvania arrested over 56,000 motorists for DUI. This included 9,100 arrests of PA drivers who were driving under the influence of drugs. There were 12,752 alcohol-related PA car accidents in 2008, which is a 10-year low for the Commonwealth.

As for the educational aspect of the program, PennDOT utilizes district judge outreach, police training in drug recognition, and implementation of technology devices such as Ignition Interlock. Ignition Interlock is a device installed on vehicles to prohibit persons under the influence of alcohol from operating the vehicle. Under current PA law, a person convicted of a second or subsequent DUI offense is required to have an Ignition Interlock device installed on each car they own, lease, or operate for one year following the license suspension period.

In his acceptance of the award, PennDOT Secretary Allen D. Biehler, P.E. stated, "We're honored to have our impaired driving program recognized as one of the national leaders." Biehler stressed the importance of PennDOT's efforts and success in working closely with Pennsylvania's law enforcement branches. In doing so, there has been a great reduction in the number of PA car accidents involving impaired driving.


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