Don’t let safety fly under radar

Drivers have avoided speeding tickets as a result of Pennsylvania’s refusal to authorize use of radar by municipal police departments.

Unfortunately, some of those drivers also have experienced the carnage stemming in part from that legislative inaction.

Meanwhile, it isn’t only irresponsible drivers who have suffered injuries or fatal consequences that expanded radar use might have helped prevent.

Passengers, pedestrians, innocent drivers and many properties have been tragically victimized – and survivors and property owners traumatized – because of state lawmakers’ failure to act.

Lawmakers’ reluctance to approve radar use on the municipal level hasn’t been ruled by logic, common sense or concern about possible misuse of the speed-enforcement device by municipal departments. It’s been based primarily on the fear of losing votes.

Many legislators fear a backlash at the voting booth for favoring expanded use of this safety asset that would force drivers – including themselves – to pay much closer attention to driving within posted speed limits in many more places.

While there are legitimate concerns among state residents about municipal departments “going too far” in their enforcement due to radar, strict rules governing its use could minimize overzealous enforcement.

“It’s a very complex issue that sounds very simple,” former Altoona state Rep. Rick Geist was quoted as saying in an article in Saturday’s Mirror.

What he should have said was that municipal police departments’ use of radar is a simple issue that the General Assembly has made complex – which the Legislature does on myriad other occasions.

Municipal departments in other states use radar, and in most cases they’ve done so professionally and fairly, although there have been documented instances where communities have acted too aggressively.

Voters have the power to defeat municipal officials who promote or condone unreasonable use of radar or any other speed-enforcement device; it’s doubtful that a vote in favor of municipal radar would by itself cause the defeat of a lawmaker in this state.

If, as Geist says, other devices have superseded radar technology, the General Assembly should make those technologies available to municipal police, if municipalities seek to utilize them. Those satisfied with using radar should be given that option as well.

Currently, there are two bills in the General Assembly to open the use of radar guns to municipal departments. House Bill 38 would limit radar to full-time departments; in Blair County, those police agencies are in Altoona, Logan Township, Hollidaysburg, Allegheny Township and Tyrone. House Bill 1297 would limit radar to some of the commonwealth’s largest counties, nearly all of them around Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Philadelphia.

Municipal radar use should not be limited to only the big-city areas.

While a member of the Legislature, Geist commendably sought a pilot program for a handful of municipalities as a means for introducing expanded radar use in this state. But it shouldn’t take a pilot program to verify what already is working successfully elsewhere.

Pennsylvania lawmakers should stop being gun-shy about radar guns and cast a vote on behalf of beefed-up highway safety instead.