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Keystone State continues to lag behind in highway safety

Not until early 2020 will motorists who violate Pennsylvania work zone speed limits experience lighter wallets and pocketbooks under provisions of Act 86 of 2018, which authorizes speed cameras in highway construction and repair areas.

Unfortunately, it is taking the commonwealth too long to get the program fully operational, considering that this state is not the first to implement such an enforcement tool.

There has been plenty of implementation guidance available from beyond Keystone State borders. For example, neighboring Maryland is years ahead of Pennsylvania on the work-zone-speed-enforcement-camera front.

Starting now in Pennsylvania is a 60-day pre-enforcement work zone pilot period, meaning that work-zone speeders identified under the new enforcement program will be getting a “free ride” initially.

According to an Oct. 30 press release from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, Turnpike Commission and state police, violations will not be issued during the pilot period.

Because of the winter weather conditions this state usually incurs — weather not conducive to major construction and repair projects — it is doubtful the new work-zone cameras will be put to much official use until spring.

However, work-zone-accident statistics for 2018 provide the basis for calling attention to Pennsylvania lawmakers’ prolonged anemic performance in laying the legislative and implementation foundations for the new slow-down initiative.

Last year, there were 1,804 reported work-zone crashes resulting in 23 fatalities, most of which were vehicle operators. Of that accident total, 43 percent of the work-zone accidents resulted in fatalities or injuries, according to transportation officials.

Motorists in this state have produced troubling numbers regarding highway workers as well. The Oct. 30 press release noted that PennDOT has lost 89 on-the-job workers since 1970, and the turnpike has lost 45 workers since 1945 — employees whose lives were snuffed out while they were doing their jobs trying to make roadways better and safer for the motoring public.

Although grounds for criticism exist regarding how long it is taking Pennsylvania to gear up the new enforcement, there seem to be no basis for questioning or criticizing how the state will be operating work-zone speed limits, nor regarding the penalties that will be meted out to violators.

Here’s why: The program will detect and record only those motorists exceeding posted construction-zone speed limits by 11 mph or more. Meanwhile, fines under the new program won’t be excessive, although it would not be unreasonable if those that have been announced were in fact higher.

According to the Oct. 30 press release, once enforcement begins, registered owners will receive a warning letter for a first offense, a violation notice and $75 fine for a second offense, and a violation notice and $150 fine for third and subsequent offenses — civil penalties for which no points will be assessed to driver’s licenses.

The press release quotes PennDOT secretary Leslie S. Richards’ statement that “the Automated Work Zone Speed Enforcement program isn’t about issuing violations, it’s about saving lives.”

Relevant to note is that the goal of saving lives should have sparked more determination in the Legislature to implement the new speed-zone enforcement tool much sooner.

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