Raleigh, N.C. — House lawmakers could vote this week on whether to ban higher speeding fines in highway work zones unless workers are actually present at the time of the offense.
The House Transportation Committee narrowly approved House Bill 136 Wednesday afternoon.
Sponsor Rep. Sarah Stevens, R-Surry, said work zone speed limits could still be lower, and speeders would still be subject to the regular fine for exceeding them.
"The speed limit stays the same," Stevens said, "but if workers are not present, we should not be assessing a $250 penalty."
Rep. Dean Arp, R-Union, spoke passionately against the bill, calling it "morally wrong to jeopardize [workers'] safety as they put themselves in harm's way to work for us."
Arp said the additional fine is "an effective deterrent" that protects the safety of both workers and drivers in the area, since narrower lanes, pattern shifts and uneven pavement can make driving more difficult. In 85 percent of the collisions in work zones, he said, it's the driver who is injured, not the workers, and it can be difficult for a driver to determine whether workers are present behind concrete barriers and equipment or at night.
Arp said he received a memo from the state Department of Transportation that said, as of April 1, there were 734 active work zones in the state, not counting regular maintenance and resurfacing. Of those areas, he said, only 44 have lower speed limits all or part of the time, and in only 30 are speeders subject to higher fines.
"I want you to ask yourself, is the public safer if I vote to pass this bill?" he argued. "If you vote for this bill, I want you to hold up a picture of the next family to be destroyed by the lax of this policy."
Rep. Larry Yarborough, R-Person, observed that some signs threatening higher work zone fines in his area had been covered up since the bill was first filed.
"Maybe the solution is to file this bill every year," Yarborough said. "You've got half the drivers that are taking it seriously and half that are not because they see there's no construction going on and no need to go slower."
Stevens accused the State Highway Patrol of having "a speed trap set up" in her county in a work area where there's often no actual work underway.
The proposal passed the committee 13-12 and goes next to the House Judiciary III Committee.