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New bill: Speed in Michigan construction zones, get a ticket in mail

construction cone
Some lawmakers want Michigan to follow the lead of other states and use cameras to catch speeders in construction work zones. (Shutterstock)

Michigan drivers speeding through construction zones on state highways would be caught on an automated speed radar and issued warnings and fines under a bill pending in the Legislature. 

House Bill 5750 would give the Michigan Department of Transportation and state police authority to set up an automated speed enforcement system in construction zones on state roads. The systems would detect when drivers exceed the speed limit and take a photo of the vehicle’s registration, marking the date, time and location of the infraction. 

Sponsor

The bill calls for written warnings for those going 10 mph over the limit, $150 civil infractions for a second offense within three years and $300 for a third. Speed limit violations are generally civil infractions, although stiffer penalties can be levied for extremely high speeds or speeding resulting in injury or death — and speeding in work zones can cost drivers extra.

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The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Sara Cambensy, D-Marquette, said the proposal was modeled on policies in Maryland and would raise money for a work zone safety fund that would invest money in concrete barriers, better signage and other safeguards to protect road workers.

“We’re looking at changing behavior,” she said during testimony to the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday,

 “We’re not looking to raise money, we are not looking to create a system where we are speed trapping drivers…simply, we want them to slow down.” 

The bill would be limited to roadways under MDOT’s jurisdiction, such as highways and major inter-county roads, and allow the department to determine in which construction zones to put the automated radar.

A similar bill introduced earlier this session would take the concept further and allow use of the cameras in local construction zones as well, although that version hasn’t advanced out of committee. 

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, communities in 16 states and Washington, D.C. use cameras to catch speeders, while communities in 22 states use them to ticket drivers who run red lights.. 

In addition to Maryland, Illinois, Oregon and Pennsylvania allow cameras in highway work zones. Some states, including Maine, Mississippi, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia, prohibit automated enforcement of both speed limit and red light violations. 

Studies have shown the cameras generally reduce speeding and traffic fatalities, but some have raised concerns about abuse and speed traps.

Michigan statute does not currently prohibit automated enforcement, but the state’s vehicle code generally requires a police officer to witness a traffic violation for civil infractions like speeding,  according to a bill analysis from the nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency.

Supporters of the plan said it could prevent needless loss of life among construction workers. According to the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association, there were 4,035 work zone crashes in Michigan that resulted in 14 fatalities and 1,050 injuries in 2020. 

Rob Coppersmith, executive vice president of the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association, told lawmakers there aren’t enough police officers on the freeways to adequately enforce work zone speed limits.

“The need for additional options for speed enforcement of work zones has been proving itself over the last few years by the way of fatalities,” he said. “And I'm sad and embarrassed that Michigan is not at the front of what has been proven to be an effective tool for driver compliance in other states.”

Sponsor

Bruce Timmons, a now-retired longtime House judiciary staffer, opposed Cambensy’s legislation. 

He told Bridge Michigan he had no issue with the idea itself, but was concerned that the bill as written would create a separate fund for any civil fines collected under the policy — a move he said would divert money away from Michigan libraries, which benefit from funding collected from civil traffic infractions.

“Libraries are not swimming in money and who is going to replace diverted revenue, especially if this trend gains further momentum?” Timmons wrote in submitted testimony.

Cambensy’s bill was reported from the House Judiciary Committee in an 11-2 vote, sending it to the full House for further consideration. The legislation needs to be approved by both the House and Senate and signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to become law.

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