Indiana Senate advances license plate speed camera pilot despite Republican pushback

The bill’s supporters contend it will help increase safety for construction workers

By: - April 4, 2023 6:00 am

House Bill 1015 would create a pilot program for speed cameras. The technology would ticket drivers going more than 11 mph over the speed limit in an active work zone. Only four cameras could be used statewide. (Getty Images)

The Indiana Senate voted 31-17 Monday to allow the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) to use license plate cameras to enforce speed limits in highway work zones.

Republican state lawmakers were divided over the measure, however, with some arguing that such “Big Brother” technology amounts to government overreach and could lead to later legislation allowing for other types of camera surveillance.

House Bill 1015 would create a pilot program for speed cameras. The technology would ticket drivers going more than 11 mph over the speed limit in an active work zone. Only four cameras could be used statewide. 

INDOT would also be required to enter into an agreement with state police to share information on the program.

“I’ve watched cars speed through 20, 30 mph over the speed limit, and you’re standing 10 feet away. Sometimes the only thing separating you is an orange barrel — or back in my day, orange cones. People die,” Sen. Blake Doriot, R-Goshen, said Monday before the Senate chamber. “I keep hearing stories — there’s a boogeyman somewhere out here about this bill. This bill has a great potential to save lives.”

The bill now returns to the House before a final send-off to the governor.

First a warning, then a ticket

Under current Indiana law, motorists who exceed the reduced speed limit in a highway work zone by as little as 1 mph can be stopped by police and fined $300 for a first violation. The fine increases to $500 for a second violation and $1,000 for each subsequent violation. A driver also faces the possibility of losing their license.

This bill has a great potential to save lives

– Sen. Blake Doriot, R-Goshen

But if a speed camera is involved a driver would receive a warning for an initial work zone speed limit violation under the legislation. Violators would then face a $75 fine for a second offense and a $150 fine for a third offense and beyond. 

Construction workers also have to be present under the speed camera pilot.

Some Republicans remain opposed

Bill author Rep. Jim Pressel, R-Rolling Prairie, has backed the bill in the House for several years. Previous attempts to get such legislation passed were unsuccessful, however.

Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis. (Courtesy Indiana Senate Republicans)

That’s because the GOP-dominated supermajority has long resisted efforts to use camera technology for highway speed violations or passing of school buses. They’ve also been hesitant to enact policy around license plate readers used by law enforcement.

“I don’t know if I see a boogeyman, but I see government. And as Ronald Reagan once said, ‘I think government is the problem,’” Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, said Monday.

“I have no regard for anybody who’s going to go blow through a construction zone. If we want to save lives … then let’s hire some more Indiana State Police officers,” he continued. “Let’s park them in these construction zones, and let’s have them patrol the highways of Indiana more than they’re doing. Because right now, I think we could use more of that.”

Sen. Jack Sandlin, R-Indianapolis, also had reservations about the bill, saying “we don’t need cameras on the highways to be distractions” to already preoccupied drivers. Sandlin, a former law enforcement officer, said he would prefer to see more state troopers assigned specifically to traffic enforcement, instead.

“I don’t think this will provide any significant reduction to accidents in the work zones because there are a lot of other issues that are going unaddressed, because we don’t have real eyes and ears out there — that we as taxpayers are paying for — policing those areas,” Sandlin said.

Sen. Jon Ford, R-Terre Haute. (Indiana Senate Republicans)

Others in the GOP caucus remained committed to the bill that they said would help protect construction workers.

“I invite any of you to go out on one of these sites and see how rough it is,” said Sen. Jim Buck, R-Kokomo. “If not now, when are we going to do this? How many young lives have to be lost on our roads, trying to make it convenient for us to go to work, play, for travel? I think it’s high time.”

Bill sponsor Sen. Jon Ford, R-Terre Haute, further pointed to rising worksite fatalities and injuries in Indiana. In 2019, the state recorded 15 deaths, 824 injuries and about 2,800 crashes in worksites, according to state and federal transportation data.

Last year, those numbers jumped to 31 fatalities, 1,426 injuries and more than 7,000 crashes in Indiana work zones.

“I, too, am a little leery of technology and where it’s taken us, but this is the reality we’re in now,” Ford said. “Technology is here.”

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Casey Smith
Casey Smith

A lifelong Hoosier, Casey Smith previously reported on the Indiana Legislature for The Associated Press. Internationally, she has reported on water quality across South America. She holds a master’s degree in investigative reporting and narrative science writing from the University of California/Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. She previously earned degrees in journalism, anthropology and Spanish from Ball State University, where she now serves as an instructor of journalism.

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