EDITORIAL: Radar love

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Are traffic tickets designed to improve road safety or boost revenue? On Tuesday, the Virginia House of Delegates took a historic first step by voting to dump the commonwealth’s ban on radar detectors. No other state in the nation prohibits the use of devices that warn drivers when radar or laser speed guns are in use. The District is the only other jurisdiction that insists on continuing the electronic equivalent of having cops hide in the bushes.

There is no difference between using a detector and being on the lookout for good Samaritans who flash their headlights upon passing a speed trap. The response of a driver to the alert of the radar detector and the headlight flash is the same: The driver will slow down.

If jurisdictions are faithful to the ostensible goal of law enforcement, which is to make society safer, then radar detectors do the trick. A trio of studies conducted in the United States, England and Australia confirmed that drivers equipped with detectors were more aware of their surroundings and had fewer collisions.

Delegate Joe T. May, Leesburg Republican, told The Washington Times that while the ban perhaps made sense when it was adopted 48 years ago, its time has passed. As technology has advanced, detectors are packed with more features than merely the ability to point out speed traps. Mr. May noted that Illinois uses a special feature of radar detectors to provide specific warnings of upcoming safety hazards.

“If your objective is to write citations, then we should keep the ban,” Mr. May told us. “If your objective is to reduce speeds and provide safety warnings, then it should go.”

In floor debate Tuesday, some lawmakers shamelessly linked the issue at hand to cash. Delegate Jackson H. Miller, Manassas Republican, cited Virginia’s budget troubles as a reason to keep the ban because it would generate more revenue for the state’s literary fund. That revenue comes right out of the hide of already overburdened taxpayers, including Mr. Miller’s own constituents.

Looking at law enforcement to generate revenue is the wrong attitude. The time has come to tear down the “Radar detectors illegal” signs that blight roadway entrances to Virginia. The state Senate should do what it takes to send this measure to Gov. Robert F. McDonnell for a well-deserved signature. Doing so would make the Old Dominion a more welcoming place for visitors and residents alike, and it would allow policemen to concentrate on fighting crime rather than acting as tax collectors.

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