Under the radar

Hatboro Council calls attention to legislation for traffic enforcement.

By Matt Schickling
Wire Staff Writer

The Hatboro Borough Council is looking to accelerate legislation to slow the pace of speedy drivers.

During a May 19 meeting, the Council passed a resolution pledging support for two bills that would allow municipal police to use speed radar equipment to enforce traffic safety in the borough.

Hatboro Police Chief Jim Gardner believes this legislation would allow police to more efficiently patrol speed violations.

“It’s really just another tool in our arsenal of public safety,” he said. “It has more flexibility in its use, I believe, than the equipment we currently use.”

In Hatboro, there are many complaints from residents about vehicles speeding through residential areas, Gardner said. With their current technology, officers often can’t enforce speeding laws in these areas.

Hatboro officers use VASCAR (Visual Average Speed Computer And Recorder), a common system of speed detection where the time it takes a vehicle to travel between two marked points is measured by a simple computer. The distance between the points is divided by the time it takes the vehicle to travel between them, which gives an officer the vehicle’s rate of speed. To do this, the officer switches on the detection when a car enters the designated point, and switches it off when the car reaches the second point.

“You have to have a clear line of sight,” Gardner said. “It limits where you can do speed enforcement.”

Radar guns could offer a solution to this problem. They determine the speed of a passing object without needing two points of reference. Instead, they measure a shift in frequency using the reflection time of light. Put simply, it measures changes in the signal frequency to determine speed. So there still needs to be a clear line of sight, but it can be more narrow compared to that needed by VASCAR.

At the moment, only Pennsylvania State Police officers are authorized to use such equipment, while municipal officers in Pennsylvania resort mostly to VASCAR.

Senate Bill 1340, which is being supported by the Council’s resolution, states that “devices which measure and calculate the average speed of a vehicle between any two points may be used by any police officer.” House Bill 1272 outlines almost identical legislation. If these bills are passed, municipal police will be allowed access to the same speed detection equipment as state officers.

The Hatboro Council’s resolution holds that not allowing municipal police access to radar equipment “has resulted in uneven enforcement of the maximum speed laws,” and “contributed to Pennsylvania’s distinction as the state with the 3rd highest number of speed-related fatalities and the 2nd highest percentage of speed-related fatalities in the country.”

Previous legislation gives no reason for the distinction between state and municipal enforcement, and Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation that has this law.

“This is one of the big mysteries in Pennsylvania law enforcement,” Gardner said. “I think it’s about time that the legislature takes action on it.”

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