The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

April 7, 2013

Bill takes aim at work-zone speed: Use of cameras causes some concerns

Justin Dennis

— Legislation to introduce speed cameras to Pennsylvania highway work zones was recently submitted to the state House, as evidenced by language injected into a transportation bill in the state Capitol.

In short, go too fast in a work zone – areas where traffic fines are already doubled – and a camera will snap a photo of your license plate. You can then expect to be mailed a photo of your car’s backside, along with a ticket.

The bill was proposed by state Rep. Ron Waters, D-Philadelphia, as a means to ensure road crew safety while allowing law enforcement to police elsewhere.

The effectiveness of speed cameras requires technology more sophisticated than a camera that shoots rapid-fire shots at an intersection during a red light and, as such, may lend itself to erroneously filed infractions.

Take the example of a road truck commissioned by AAA that was cited for going 57 in a 25-mph zone. Recorded footage taken from the ticketing camera shows the truck was nearly stopped before an intersection, but the camera thought it was a reckless offense.

“We have concerns about the accuracy of these cameras,” said AAA spokeswoman Jennifer Robinson, who said although her company doesn’t have an official stance on the legislation, it’s important that motorists are not paying a steeper price than is justified.

Other detractors, including a retired Maryland State Highway Administration official, claim the cameras have not been fully tested.

“Automated enforcement has to be set up with safety in mind first and carefully set up so it’s not merely a revenue generator,” Robinson said.

But PennDOT spokesman Steve Chizmar said speed cameras are not necessarily about money.

“The bottom line is – this is about saving lives,” he said. “If you see revenues go down, then the cameras are working.”

Changing drivers’ mentalities when passing through work zones is, according to Chizmar, the driving force behind the legislation.  

As it stands, Chizmar said about 20 deaths happen each year as a result of work zone accidents – a majority of those deaths were the drivers.

The bill is still very new. Chizmar said it’s too early for a rollout plan to be formulated – it still hasn’t even passed the House.

“Anything put in place would likely be a trial or a study just to see how this would work in Pennsylvania,” he said. “To determine their effectiveness.”

National Work Zone Awareness Week kicks off later this month, with a range of events happening across the state. Chizmar said anything the state can enact to get drivers to ease off the gas is worth exploring.

“Motorists have got to realize that when they pass the work zone, there’s cones and barrels on the road, but also people in those work zones,” he said.

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