Local cops still want radar to catch speeders. There’s no shortage of bills to do that | Thursday Morning Coffee

A Pennsylvania State Police Ford Interceptor (Raymond Wambsgans/Flickr)

Good Thursday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Well, we’ll give state Rep. Tom Mehaffie credit for this much: He’s not afraid to hunt for elusive prey.

After watching his push for for a $500 million, consumer-funded bailout of Three Mile Island go up in, well, a mushroom cloud of legislative indifference, the Dauphin County Republican is picking himself up, dusting himself off, and setting his sights on a goal that’s evaded any number of lawmakers over the years.

He wants local cops to finally be allowed to use radar to catch speeding motorists — just like the State Police get to do. Right now, in fact, Pennsylvania is the only state that doesn’t allow local police to use radarWPXI-TV in Pittsburgh reported earlier this week, as it took note of the renewed push in Harrisburg.

“I am an advocate for legislation that applies broadly because speeding impacts all municipalities. And, whether working full or part-time, in an accredited or unaccredited department, municipal police officers all receive the same training,” Mehaffie wrote in a Wednesday memo to his House colleagues seeking support for his plan. “Therefore, there is no reason to limit use of the best tools and most efficient technology to a very few departments. Finally, let’s all remember that those traveling in excess of the posted speed-limit are, in fact, violating the law.”

The good news for Mehaffie, is that, unlike his TMI push, he’s going to find more sympathetic ears in the Legislature. He’s also hardly alone.

In his memo, Mehaffie said he’s modeling his bill on similar Senate legislation, sponsored by Sen. Mario Scavello, R-Monroe. It’s one of several local radar bills making the rounds during this year’s legislative session.

And when it’s finally introduced, Mehaffie’s proposal will join other House and Senate bills, including one sponsored by Rep. Kurt Masser, R-Northumberlandthat’s now before the House Transportation Committee.

Ditto for Reps. Greg Rothman, R-Cumberland, and Bill Kortz, D-Allegheny, who are also floating House bills.  And over in the Senate, Sen Steve Santarsiero, D-Bucks, is sponsoring hs own proposal.

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According to his memo, Mehaffie’s bill would:

  • “Provide notice to residents by requiring passage of a local ordinance authorizing the use of radar and LIDAR in a community;
  • Provide notice to motorists by requiring signage to be placed within 500 feet of the municipal border on the main arteries entering a municipality;
  • Provide a 90-day period when only warnings can be given;
  • Limit conviction to speeds recorded in excess of 10 miles per hour over the speed limit or 6 miles per hour over on an interstate highway posted at 70 miles per hour;
  • Require local police to complete approved training prior to using radar and LIDAR;
  • Provide that the primary use of speed-timing devices is traffic safety; and
  • Require any revenue generated from speed enforcement citations in excess of 20% of a municipality’s total budget shall be remitted to the Department of Revenue for placement in the PA Motor License Fund.”

Now the bad news for Mehaffie and his colleagues: Past local radar bills have come and gone for years without being signed into law, including an ill-fated push last year that even had the support of the State Police, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

And, as is the case in the past, groups representing motorists are lining up against it.

“RADAR is not about highway safety, RADAR is about raising revenue,” Thomas McCarey, of the state chapter of the National Motorists Associationwrote in an April 19 op-Ed for PennLive about a separate House proposal. “RADAR guns are notoriously inaccurate, for instance, clocking trees at 90 MPH, and being unable to distinguish between cars. Claiming that the ticket money doesn’t go to the government is a red herring: it adds up to a lot of money in the end. And proposing that some of the ticket money go to a “good cause” in order to build support for RADAR is plain deception.”

Still, local police have said they need radar to keep their communities safe.

“With the increase in vehicular traffic, specifically here in the southeast where there’s a tremendous amount of growth, there’s a daily request for traffic assessments and studies and speed enforcement on our roadways,” West Chester, Pa. police Chief Scott Bohn told The Inquirer during last year’s push.

In his memo, Mehaffie offered a similar sentiment:

“As a former local elected official, I am well aware of the public safety hazards created by speeding motorists on local roads. After many, many years of debate, it is time to authorize local use of radar and LIDAR by municipal police giving localities the tools to effectively and safely enforce local speed limits. Interestingly, these tools are currently available to the Pennsylvania State Police patrolling local roads,” he wrote.

Our Stuff:
Stephen Caruso says state legislators want a ‘guaranteed chance’ to defend the laws they pass against potential court challenges.

The House Republican Campaign Committee is targeting Democrats in Trumpy districts with a new ad featuring Rep. Brian Sims’ tirade against anti-abortion protesters, Caruso also reports.

And state Rep. Jerry Knowles, R-Schuylkill, is also floating a censure resolution against Sims, the very busy Caruso also reports.

From our sister publication, The Michigan Advance, a story about national protesters targeting the Michigan operations of a Pa-based anti-abortion group.

In a new column, Terry Madonna and Michael L. Young take a look at the lay of the land on impeachment.

Court systems and websites in Philly are still down after a virus attackThe Inquirer reports.
The Harrisburg schools have averted a one-day walkout by teachersPennLivereports.
Pittsburgh got hit by a round of flash flooding during heavy rains on Wednesday, The Post-Gazette reports.
U.S. Rep. Susan Wild’s, D-7th District, longtime partner died over the weekendThe Morning Call reports. We offer our most sincere condolences.

Here’s your #Philadelphia Instagram of the Day:

Pa. Dems are looking for $125M for emergency repairs to state public schoolsWHYY-FM reports.
Gov. Tom Wolf is rejecting a  Senate GOP proposal to pay for infrastructure by expanding natural gas drilling in state forest land, WITF-FM reports.
Billy Penn has all you need to know about Phillies’ centerfielder Odubel Herrera’s arrest on domestic violence charges.
PoliticsPA has its annual ‘When Will the Budget Get Signed’ poll up and running.
Politico explains why President Trump is so hung-up on his rivals’ IQ scores.
More 2020 Dems are joining the call for impeachmentRoll Call reports.

What Goes On.
The House Veterans Affairs Committee and Emergency Preparedness Committee legs it to Delaware County Community College for a 10 a.m. hearing on pipeline safety.

Gov. Tom Wolf
 makes an 8:30 a.m. breakfast appearance at the Harrisburg Regional Chamber/CREDC shindig at the Best Western Premier in Harrisburg.

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition).
7:30 a.m.: 
Golf outing for Rep. Tarah Toohil
6 p.m.: Reception for Sen. John Sabatina
Hit both events, and give at the max, and you’re out a mere $6,000 today.

Heavy Rotation.
Blame the ceaseless Applebee’s commercials. Here’s the legendary Barry White and ‘Can’t Get Enough of Your Love.’

Thursday’s Gratuitous Baseball Link.
Baltimore dropped a 4-2 decision to Detroit on Wednesday night.

And now you’re up to date.

John L. Micek
A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press


  1. Radar makes MANY errors and fails the Daubert Test. Pull up Radargate Revisited to see. Can’t tell which car made the reading, either. Absurdly low speed limits, tickets at 6 mph above them.

    Speed limits should be set to the 85th percentile free flowing traffic speed, but they are not. This means
    more crashes, tickets to safe drivers, and the wrong drivers.

    PennDOT’s own data shows that the roads have never been safer. I do have a simple solution. Make ALL tickets only points, no fines or surcharges. See who wants radar then. In the end, money talks and that is 100% of what this is about. Want full compliance, then post PROPER speed limits!

    Better get ready to pay up to drive anywhere!

    Check out the National Motorists Association and oppose this misguided radar push.

    • I agree with you. Everywhere I go, I see speed limits posted at asinine levels. They are way too low now, which makes safe drivers into violators. At the same time, the police think they can drive at any speed they wish. How about higher limits for all people?

  2. The Pennsylvania Legislature should Vote NO on House Bill 1275.
    It is anti-safety and anti-driver legislation.

    You have been misinformed about RADAR and “speeding.”

    RADAR should be banned in Pennsylvania and not extended to municipal police. There is no epidemic crisis of speeding, only an epidemic crisis of highway engineering malpractice allowing well meaning but misinformed politicians to seek more and more money from safe drivers.

    RADAR is not about highway safety, RADAR is about raising revenue. RADAR guns are notoriously inaccurate, for instance, clocking trees at 90 MPH, and being unable to distinguish between cars. Claiming that the ticket money doesn’t go to the government is a red herring: it adds up to a lot of money in the end. And proposing that some of the ticket money go to a “good cause” in order to build support for RADAR is plain deception.

    Every police traffic report requires three entries for “cause of accident,” and “excessive speed” is almost always listed as one of the three whether or not the driver was actually speeding: it’s a throw-away entry. This gives NHTSA and the “safety” lobby carte blanche, by manipulating their “statistics,” to raise the roof about all those maniacs slaughtering people on the highways, which is a lie.

    Speed is a cause of accidents 5% of the time, according to the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) [DOT HS 811 059 National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey]. The Florida Department of Transportation puts it at 2%. Speed as a cause of accidents when traffic is free flowing is a rare event, yet this is when the majority of citations are written. Speed traps are staged where it is safe to drive faster, making it easy to write tickets.

    Yet, 50 years of government propaganda and misinformation about highway safety makes it easy for the “safety” lobby to declare that unless we give local police RADAR guns, everybody’s going to die! And far too many otherwise reasonable people agree, so that in the end, the special interests who profit from RADAR, the RADAR manufacturers, auto insurers, governments, the police, and the courts, get their go-ahead to unfairly tax (ticket) drivers. For the attorneys reading this, RADAR fails the Daubert Test concerning the admissibility of evidence in court.

    Posted speed limits are at the bottom of all of this. What is the safest speed* and who decides? If it were up to the ”safety” lobby, we’d all be driving cars that could only go 20 miles per hour. The core tenet of reasonable traffic laws, safety and due process is that the super majority of people act in a safe and responsible manner, and that they do drive safely for the conditions present. An engineering concept known as the 85th Percentile Speed* very simply says that 85 out of 100 motor vehicles will travel at or below a speed which is reasonable and prudent. It is the safest speed* with the most compliance. But posting limits at the 85th Percentile Speed* makes the job of the police, that is, to collect taxes for the government, very difficult indeed since 85% of drivers are not speeding.

    The Federal Highway Safety Administration (FHwA) found that 90% of the time speed limits in Pennsylvania are posted 8 to 16 miles per hour below the safest speed*. The politicians’ response to complaints from uninformed and misled constituents about “speeders” is to push for arming all police state-wide with RADAR guns, while keeping posted limits too low and withholding NHTSA and FHwA statistics showing that there is no speeding crisis.

    Arbitrary, unrealistic speed zones cannot be expected to reduce accidents and may, in fact, adversely affect traffic safety by confusing drivers and increasing speed differentials. Arbitrary, unrealistic speed zones do provide high profits for RADAR guns.

    Hunting down drivers with RADAR guns will not improve highway safety, and the unfair and unnecessary enforcement of too-low limits will foster contempt for law enforcement. Money is the one and only reason for arming municipal police with RADAR guns.

    Until speed limits are set at the safest speed* using proper, time-tested highway engineering, as called for in Title 75, highway safety will not be improved. RADAR guns will only raise money, they will not improve highway safety.

    Don’t allow the Legislature to give RADAR guns to municipal police. RADAR guns will only raise money, they will not add to safety.

    House Bill 1275 needs to be voted down or we will get speed traps everywhere.

    Tom McCarey Member, National Motorists Association

  3. Tell your Representative and Senator to VOTE NO on House Bill 1275, and VOTE NO on Senate Bill 607 authorizing RADAR for municipal police. RADAR has nothing to do with safety. RADAR will only raise money. Wrongful taxation of the public for revenue creates a propensity for corruption and generates a genuine distrust for government, in its smallest and largest forms.

    Some want RADAR to better enforce posted speed limits. “Slower is safer” is the premise in the enforcement of politically set speed limits. The premise is not true. Low speed limits facilitate an enforcement-for-profit racket.

    Penn State has produced a speed limit study [https://news.psu.edu/story/551574/2018/12/12/research/crashes-increase-when-speed-limits-dip-far-below-engineering] where they “… found there was an increase in fatal and injury crashes at locations with posted speed limits set 10 miles per hour or more below engineering recommendations.”
    The “engineering recommendations” are the 85th Percentile Speed which is the safest speed. (The 85th Percentile Speed is the speed at or below which 85% of vehicles travel on a given stretch of road)
    The recommendations come from professional highway engineers who perform traffic studies to determine the safest speeds on roads.

    It is also the speed with the most compliance, which is why RADAR advocates don’t want limits to be posted at the safest speed. That will make RADAR unprofitable: you can’t write tickets when 85% of drivers are in compliance with properly set limits.

    If the Legislature will pass a law that the speed limit on every road, street, and highway in Pennsylvania be set at the 85th Percentile Speed, I will support HB 1275 and SB 607. But the Legislature won’t because there is no money in it.
    Some in the Legislature want to give RADAR to municipal police so that $10’s of millions of “speeding” tickets can be written, unfairly taxing drivers going the safest speed, which they do 85% of the time. HB 1275 and SB 607 have nothing to do with safety.


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