Senate Approves Bill to Authorize CHP Radar Use

Times Staff Writer

Legislation authorizing the use of radar by the Highway Patrol to catch speeding truck drivers on state highways and other motorists on newly designated 65-m.p.h. freeways in rural parts of California was approved by the Senate on Monday.

However, the bill's author, Sen. Daniel Boatwright (D-Concord), said the measure is likely to win Assembly approval only if it applies just to operators of big trucks and not to drivers of cars.

Senate passage represented a breakthrough in the CHP's long campaign to obtain legislative authorization to employ radar on state highways, an effort that has been successfully beaten back by the Teamsters Union and a powerful lawmaker no longer in the Assembly.

Under the Senate bill, which would take effect Jan. 1, the patrol would be allowed to use radar as an enforcement tool--for all motorists on designated rural freeways and for trucks on all state highways--on an experimental basis, with a report due back to the Legislature on May 31, 1989.

On a 22-10 vote, the bill went to the Assembly, where backers indicated it faces a brighter future than in previous years. Similar radar bills time after time fell victim to influential Assemblyman Louis Papan (D-Millbrae), who at the time was chairman of the Rules Committee and was known as "Leadfoot Lou" for his driving habits.

Earlier, the late Sen. Randolph Collier (D-Yreka), who headed the Transportation Committee until he left the Legislature in 1976, steadfastly blocked CHP efforts to use radar.

Papan vacated his Assembly seat last year to make an unsuccessful campaign for the state Senate. His departure gave hope to supporters of radar. However, Boatwright said the provision applying to car drivers on newly designated 65-m.p.h. rural interstate highways had created controversy and probably would be taken out of the bill in the Assembly.

"I think it has a good shot at passing in the Assembly if it is scaled back to include trucks only," he said, noting that the car driver provision had been inserted into the bill over his objections.

Rule for Rural Areas

As written, the passenger car provision would apply to any driver exceeding the newly imposed 65-m.p.h. maximum limit on 1,157 miles of selected rural interstates in California. Under a law signed last month by Gov. George Deukmejian, the maximum limit was increased from 55 m.p.h.

California is the only state in the nation whose statewide police force does not use radar on its highways. The CHP has maintained that it has authority to use radar on state highways, but because the issue is so politically sensitive it wants specific legislative approval to do so.

Currently, however, the Highway Patrol does contract with 19 counties to operate radar on county roads. Counties must ask for the aid and pay for radar costs.

The only exceptions to the ban on state highway radar use have come at the request of local officials along limited stretches of highway in Orange, Riverside, Ventura and Los Angeles counties. On a 27-mile stretch of California 126 from near Santa Paula to a point between Saugus and Castaic, the CHP reported that radar "has been successful in reducing speed and accidents."

On a mountainous 29-mile section of California 74 (Ortega Highway) in Orange and Riverside counties, from San Juan Capistrano to Rancho California, the patrol also is using radar provided by local agencies for traffic enforcement. A report to the Legislature is due by Feb. 1.

Monday, California Highway Patrol Officer Ken Daily said that along the Ortega Highway in southern Orange County, 210 citations--40% of all those issued during the first five months of 1987--were written by officers using radar-equipped cars.

Radar is used by two patrol units--one to measure the speed, the other to pursue the offending car, if necessary--during daylight shifts, but not every day, according to Daily, who said: "We use it sporadically. We don't have a set pattern."

An average of 3,700 cars a day travel the 13-mile stretch of two-lane road between San Juan Capistrano to Riverside County, according to Daily. Although the posted limit is 55 m.p.h., lower speeds are recommended on curves.

Daily said it is too soon to tell whether radar has reduced the number accidents along Ortega Highway, because speeding can be seasonal, with more speed-related accidents occuring in the warmer summer months.

In Mission Viejo, however, radar has been used on seven streets since December, 1983, and accidents have declined, Daily said.

During 1983, there were 388 accidents resulting in injury or death along those streets, Daily said. In 1984--the first full year of radar operations--there were 342 accidents, a 12% reduction.

Speed-related accidents dropped 14% along those streets in 1984, he said.

"No question about it, 14% is really significant," Daily said.

If people travel a road regularly and know radar is being used, they will tend to slow down, he said. "Radar is very much a psychological weapon."

Finances for Experiment

The radar bill would appropriate $30,000 to buy 15 radar units for the experiment. Supporting it is the California Trucking Assn., which represents the management of about 1,900 major trucking companies. The Teamsters union has opposed similar bills in the past, arguing that that radar is a form of entrapment.

Boatwright, the bill's author, said studies have shown that "truck at fault" accidents have increased 50% in recent years and said excessive speed is a major cause.

"If you are driving 55 m.p.h., you better watch out because a truck is going to run over you (from behind)," he warned the Senate. "It has happened."

Another supporter, Sen. Gary K. Hart (D-Santa Barbara), noted that local law enforcement departments have used radar for speed enforcement for years and that it is "bizarre and absurd" not to so equip the CHP.

Sen. Milton Marks (D-San Francisco), however, questioned the reliability of radar equipment and insisted that "everybody could be trapped" by devices whose accuracy he said is uncertain.

Times staff writer Marcida Dodson contributed to this report.

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