View south along Pennsylvania State Route 611 at the exit for Interstate 276/Pennsylvania Turnpike in Upper Moreland Township, Montgomery County. (Famartin/Wikimedia Commons)
Pennsylvania transportation officials told lawmakers that pilot programs for the automatic enforcement of traffic laws have led to improvements in traffic safety over the last three years.
In a Senate Transportation Committee hearing on Monday, Pennsylvania Transportation Secretary Mike Carroll said the programs, which allow the use of cameras in work zones and on school buses to catch violators, should be extended and expanded before they expire over the next several months.
“We have construction workers that we have to consider. We have school students that we have to consider. We have pedestrians and bicyclists that we have to consider,” Carroll said. “They often fall under the banner of vulnerable highway users.”
Act 86 of 2018 permitted PennDOT and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to employ automatic speed cameras to issue violations to drivers who exceed a work zone speed limit by more than 11 mph. The violations come with only a written warning for the first offense and fines that increase from $75 for a second offense to $150 for each subsequent violation.
“The goal, of course, from the department’s perspective, is that no motorists get a citation or a violation from any of these programs that exist. The goal for all of us should be that highway users are protected and the drivers make sound decisions with respect to the operation of their vehicle,” Carroll said.
The PennDOT and turnpike commission programs will expire in February, state Sen. Wayne Langerholc, R-Clearfield, said.
According to PennDOT’s 2023 report on the work zone camera program, it has issued nearly 1.1 million violations since the program’s start in 2020.
Although data on work zone crashes is skewed by the halt to all road construction during the pandemic, Pennsylvania saw a reduction in the number of work zone crashes of about 100 a year once road work resumed. Work zone crashes have increased nationally during the same period, PennDOT’s report says.
The law also permitted the Philadelphia Parking Authority to operate speed cameras on Roosevelt Boulevard, a central artery in northeast Philadelphia that has been labeled one of the most dangerous highways in the United States.
The 12-lane road that stretches for 14 miles through some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods accounted for 10% to 13% of the city’s traffic fatalities before the pandemic, according to city officials.
Philadelphia recorded 21% fewer fatalities and 64% fewer pedestrian crashes on Roosevelt Boulevard between August 2020 and November 2022, a Philadelphia deputy managing director for transportation, infrastructure and sustainability, also named Mike Carroll, said.
Speeding violations have also decreased by 95%, the Philadelphia official said.
The Philadelphia speed camera program sunsets in December.
A third program that permits school districts to install cameras on school buses to issue tickets to motorists who pass stopped buses will expire next month.
Several pieces of legislation are pending, including a bill passed in the state House in June and now before the Senate Transportation Committee, that would extend and expand the programs to include speed cameras in new locations.
Sen. Timothy Kearney, D-Delaware, noted that the work zone speed camera program has operated at a cumulative cost of about $2.5 million since its start. Carroll, the transportation secretary, said the program was never intended to generate revenue but rather to alter drivers’ behaviors and improve safety.
Sen. Lindsey Williams, D-Allegheny, said she has received inquiries from constituents who have received the automatic work zone tickets and said she believes there are administrative aspects of the program that need to be improved.
Williams said signage warning motorists of an active work zone and speed camera enforcement should be more visible and provide more time for drivers to slow down. She also said that when multiple vehicles are registered to the same person but driven by different members of a household, warnings and violations can be issued at the same time, creating confusion.
Carroll said PennDOT is working on changes to the signage warning of work zone speed cameras to make it more visible but added that the department would look into issues concerning confusion over warnings and deadlines to respond to tickets.
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