Lawmakers OK allowing speed cameras in work zones

Lawmakers OK allowing speed cameras in work zones

By Arianna Coghill

Capital News Service

RICHMOND - For the first time in Virginia, police officers could issue speeding tickets through the mail without pulling over the speeding motorist under legislation sitting on Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk.

SB 1521, which cleared its final hurdle in the General Assembly last week, would allow state troopers to use handheld photo speed monitoring devices to catch vehicles going at least 12 mph over the speed limit in highway work zones.

The owner or renter of the vehicle then would be mailed a summons with a fine of up to $125. The recipient of the summons could fight the ticket by filing an affidavit or testifying in court “that he was not the operator of the vehicle at the time of the alleged violation,” the bill states.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Bill Carrico (R-Grayson) has prompted discussion on social media. As one user posted on Reddit, “The big difference now will be when you speed past a parked police car and think you’re lucky because they didn’t come after you, but then you get a ticket in the mail.”

Some feared that Virginia is “turning into Maryland,” where photo speed enforcement is common. In 2017, Maryland issued more than 1.5 million speed-camera tickets, with fines totaling more than $62 million. Speed cameras also are used in Washington, DC.

However, Carrico’s bill is limited:

  • Speed cameras could be used only by law enforcement officers employed by Virginia State Police.
  • They could be used only in or around highway work zones.
  • Officers using the cameras would have to be present in the work zone and have their blue lights flashing.
  • Police would have to post “conspicuous” signs within 1,000 feet of any work zone alerting drivers that speed cameras were being used.

Payment of a speed-camera summons would not go on the motorist’s driving record, and it would not affect the person’s motor vehicle insurance coverage, according to the legislation.

The legislation, which passed 74-24 in the House and 30-8 in the Senate, is a response to a spike in roadwork accidents in Virginia in recent years. According to the Virginia Department of Transportation, more than 2,600 crashes took place in work zones in 2017.

Over 700 people are killed and more than 35,000 are injured in work zone accidents every year, and drivers make up four out of five of the fatalities.

Jeff Southard, executive vice president of the Virginia Transportation and Construction Alliance, said 94 percent of work zone accidents are caused by driver behavior.

If Northam signs the bill into law, it would take effect July 1.

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.