Good eye: Speed-zone cameras

Everyone and everything is at risk when there is speeding in work zones, not just the workers doing the work and their equipment, but also the irresponsible motorists themselves, other motorists, passengers, the improvements underway and the work already completed.

For too long, Pennsylvania lawmakers failed to muster the responsibility and good judgment to use all available resources to attack that dangerous vehicle-operator conduct. Specifically, lawmakers balked at the use of speed cameras in work zones as an enforcement and evidence-gathering asset.

That unwillingness was as lacking in good sense as the drivers disregarding construction-zone speed limit signs.

The value of work zone speed cameras has been proven in states currently using them, including neighboring Maryland. And, the existence of the cameras isn’t a secret; prominent signs warn drivers that the cameras are in use.

All that motorists have to do is obey the posted construction-zone speed limits.

Fortunately, the Pennsylvania General Assembly finally has abandoned its timidity on the speed camera issue. On Oct. 2, the state Senate voted to concur with the changes made to Senate Bill 172 by the House of Representatives, sending the bill to Gov. Tom Wolf, a supporter of the measure, for his signature.

The only questionable aspect of the speed-camera law is that it isn’t necessarily permanent; the law guarantees only a five-year pilot program that lawmakers will have to revisit a half-decade from now.

Use of the cameras should have been made a permanent tool from the start. As with any other law, the General Assembly has the power to revise or make adjustments that are deemed necessary when a need is identified — at any time.

Pilot program status opens a window for subsequent legislative tinkering that lacks any necessity. The time devoted to that five-year review and the reauthorization process in general could be better spent.

But the pilot status is consistent with the General Assembly’s lack of efficiency and leadership on so many fronts.

That’s why new ideas are seldom a “Pennsylvania thing.” They’re long entrenched in other states before Pennsylvania gets around to them.

Despite the risks posed by speeders in work zones, the camera law is fair — perhaps overly so — to motorists. As reported in an Oct. 3 Mirror article, the first violation by 11 miles per hour will generate a warning for the offender, a second offense will carry a $75 fine, and third and subsequent offenses will result in $150 penalties.

The law provides “windows” for motorists to challenge the penalties, but the easier option will be to simply observe the speed limits and eliminate the possibility of a fine or, worse, being involved in an accident that could change lives forever.

The cameras in question will be operated by a vendor to be contracted by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. The law provides a reasonable formula for distributing money remaining after administrative costs are deducted.

The money-distribution formula probably should be the main point of review when the five-year “pilot” status begins to be debated, not whether the speed camera program will continue.

Eliminating this modern enforcement tool that has proven so successful elsewhere would be a major error.