Hoosier motorists exceeding the speed limit in highway work zones soon could have their license plate photographed and the vehicle owner fined by the state, if some Indiana lawmakers get their way.
The General Assembly's Interim Study Committee on Transportation appeared Wednesday to favor authorizing the use of automated traffic enforcement devices in road construction areas as a tool to improve safety and minimize dangerous or distracted driving.
The panel will decide later this month whether to formally recommend that the Republican-controlled Legislature consider making Indiana the sixth state, including Illinois, with work zone speed cameras when lawmakers convene in January for a 10-week session.
State Rep. Chuck Moseley, D-Portage, a study committee member whose automated enforcement proposal in House Bill 1412 failed to advance in the House last session, said he's determined to get it done next year.
"This is not a speed enforcement issue for me. This is a safety enforcement issue for me," Moseley said. "I think we all want to find a way to make people more safe."
The need for improved work zone safety was hammered into the committee by leaders of Indiana Constructors Inc. (ICI), a statewide construction trade group, who pointed to state records showing work zone collisions increased to 6,370 in 2017, the most recent year with data available, compared to 2,878 collisions in 2013.
While they acknowledged Indiana now has more work zones after lawmakers hiked fuel taxes and vehicle fees in 2017 to fund infrastructure projects, they also said motorists seem to be driving more recklessly due to speed and technological distractions.
"We want to get the work done, but we want to do it safely," said Dan Brown, ICI board chairman.
ICI leaders said Indiana should consider copying Pennsylvania's recently enacted speed camera law that photographs vehicles exceeding the speed limit in work zones by at least 11 miles per hour, and issues a warning for a first offense, imposes a $75 fine for a second violation and a $150 fine for subsequent offenses.
State Sen. Blake Doriot, R-Syracuse, said he likes the idea of only using speed camera enforcement when workers are present, since too often Indiana road construction zones cover a wide swath of highway where nothing is happening.
But state Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, pointed out there's just as much collision risk when workers are not present because many crashes stem from drivers failing to timely reduce speed when merging into a single lane or navigating temporary road alignments.
"If you just tie it to the workers that only solves part of the problem," Soliday said.
Indeed, state records show the overwhelming majority of work zone deaths and injuries are suffered by adults and children traveling in cars and trucks through construction zones, instead of harming the people working on Indiana's highways.
Figuring out how exactly to get Hoosier drivers to slow down and pay attention, especially in work zones, has stymied lawmakers all decade long.
The 2011 Indiana Work Zone Safety Law imposed fines for speeding in a work zone of $300 for a first violation, $500 for a second and $1,000 for a third offense within three years. A driver who injures or kills a construction worker faces up to six years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
State police, however, have found that law difficult to enforce, since there often are few places to station a patrol vehicle or safely pull over a speeding driver in an active work zone.
"We've all seen the big orange signs that talk about the increased fines for speeding in work zones," said David Hyde, former ICI board chairman. "Those are great signs, but they don't make a difference."
Hoosier lawmakers in 2011 also banned typing, reading or sending a text message or email while driving.
But a 2014 federal court ruling deemed the statute "useless," because motorists still can use their phones while driving for any other purpose — so long as they are not texting or emailing.
Separately, state lawmakers in 2011, 2013 and 2015 gave serious consideration to various Soliday proposals for speed camera enforcement in work zones and school zones.
Those efforts failed to become law due in part to bipartisan concerns about motorist privacy, limited safety benefits and the perception that speed cameras just would be a cash grab by the state.