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Traffic safety initiatives could expire without action at the Pa. Capitol

  • 9/18/2023 2:29:00 PM
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HARRISBURG — Sunset provisions in Pennsylvania law that are set to expire without legislative action threaten the near-term use of automated speed enforcement in highway construction zones along with cameras mounted on side-arm stop signs equipped on school buses.

Also at risk is automated speed enforcement along Roosevelt Boulevard (U.S. Route 1) in Philadelphia — 10 fixed zones between Ninth Street and the Bucks County Line. A 2022 study by the State Transportation Advisory Committee found that fatal and serious injuries fell 11%, total crashes dropped 34%, and violations plummeted 96% in the target zone after it was implemented in June 2020.

Permission to use cameras on school buses, used to document cases where drivers make illegal passes, expires on Oct. 24, according to Sen. Wayne Langerholc, R-Cambria/Clearfield/Centre, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee.

The Roosevelt Boulevard program expires Dec. 18 while automated enforcement in active work zones expires Feb. 16, 2024, he said.

“That’s why time is of the essence to have this hearing to discuss these issues and hopefully move forward to extend the (expiration) for all those programs,” Langerholc said during a committee hearing Monday.

The programs were authorized as part of Act 86 of 2018. There are at least four bills pending in the General Assembly proposing to keep the three programs running, with two each introduced in the House and Senate.

Differing language in the bills could hamper legislative progress without agreement between the chambers, Sen. David Argall, R-Carbon/Luzerne/Schuylkill, said at the hearing.

The use of side-arm cameras on school buses is low, according to Gerry Wosewick, executive director, Pennsylvania School Bus Association. He estimated that approximately 15% of buses across the commonwealth use them. Wosewick cited a study that found over the course of a 180-day school year, there were 41.8 million illegal passings of school buses.

“This is all avoidable,” he said.

Some contractors and school districts haven’t instituted cameras because of cost and questions as to who should pay, Wosewick said, adding that some new busses come equipped with the cameras.

PennDOT Secretary Mike Carroll said initial work zone violations are met with a warning. Automated enforcement has improved safety through all three programs, he said.

Michael Carroll, Philadelphia’s deputy managing director for Transportation, Infrastructure, and Sustainability, the same name as the state agency secretary, said he hopes to expand the speed enforcement program to other areas of the city.

Sen. Rosemary Brown, R-Lackawanna/Monroe/Wayne, raised concerns about improving driver awareness in automated enforcement zones, suggesting signage could be improved. Carroll, of PennDOT, said the department anticipates installing new, unique signs. He also said that while he’s open to more nuanced discussions on revising program details, the program deadlines must be extended to keep them operating.

The National Motorists Association, however, expressed opposition to all three programs. Jay Beeber, the organization’s director of public policy and research, submitted written testimony stating there’s been little evidence that Roosevelt Boulevard is made safer through speed cameras. He suggested speed-capture signage warning drivers of exceeding the limit would be more effective, and said the road’s 40 mph limit is inappropriate for a busy 12-lane roadway, suggesting a limit of 50 mph would also reduce violations without impacting safety.

Beeber shared data challenging whether automated enforcement reduced speeding in work zones, and wrote against one bill’s proposal to raise the initial violation from a warning to a $25 fine. He said 84% of violators who received a warning hadn’t committed a subsequent violation in automated enforcement zones.

As to cameras and school busses, he said data from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration documented just four fatalities to children caused by illegal passing across a 10-year period — an annual average of 0.001% of all fatalities on U.S. roadways.

“Although school buses are students’ safest mode of transportation to school,” Beerber wrote, “the majority of school children who are injured or killed in school bus accidents are hit by the school bus itself or while riding on the bus.”

Beeber suggested additional annual training for bus drivers and students as well as the addition of mirrors or camera observation systems.

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