Peter Spera of Langhorne said he did not knowingly speed in a work zone. He was not going to pay the fines. His rights were violated.

And in part because of his resistance, PennDot has agreed to throw out hundreds of citations and refund fines to motorists caught by an automatic speed-enforcement camera in part of a Route 1 construction zone in Lower Bucks County.

“How can you give me a violation when you didn’t tell me to slow down, drive 45 mph or less, and didn’t tell me I was in an active work zone?” Spera said, noting there were no warning signs present on the stretch he was driving.

State Reps. Frank Farry and K.C. Tomlinson and State Sen. Tommy Tomlinson, all Bucks County Republicans, fielded a surge of calls to their offices in late December from constituents who got violation notices in the mail but said they had no idea they were in a work zone because it was not marked with signs warning of automated enforcement.

Commissioner Yassmin Gramian acknowledged in a Jan. 26 letter to Farry that PennDot found errors in the “deployment” of the camera in the area of the US1-RC2 project in its investigation of the complaints. All warnings and violations will be voided and those who got them will get letters of apology and reimbursement for any fines, the letter said.

“I do want to compliment” PennDot, said Farry, a lawyer and chief of the volunteer Langhorne-Middletown Fire Company. “They were receptive to the concerns we had, responded timely, investigated, and made the right decision.”

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Crews “inadvertently” used the speed limit for an adjacent work zone when setting up the equipment, according to Gramian’s letter. “As a result some of the vehicles receiving warnings and violations were traveling below the ‘11 miles per hour over the speed limit’ threshold established in legislation,” it said.

PennDot said it audited other automated work-zone enforcement in other parts of the state and found no problems. It is implementing refresher training and other “corrective measures,” the letter said.

Pennsylvania has used construction-zone speed enforcement cameras on highways, roads, and the turnpike since 2020. As of Sept. 30, the cameras had flagged more than 550,000 vehicles statewide for speeding.

The 2018 state law that authorized the program defines a violation as traveling at least 11 miles over the posted work-zone speed limit. It also requires two warning signs to be “conspicuously placed before the active work zone” indicating that an automated device is in use and whether the zone is “active.”

A first infraction brings a warning. Second violations are assessed at $75, and the fine is $150 for a third and each subsequent offense.

Tickets are civil violations and no points are assessed against a driver’s license for them.

For that reason, Spera believes many people just pay up, unwilling to go through the hassle of fighting the tickets. He, however, pushed for an appeal, heard over Zoom by a lawyer for the PennDot contractor — “a very nice man” — acting as an administrative judge.

The program is handled by Redflex Traffic Systems, a company headquartered in Mesa, Ariz.

But the authorizing legislation recognizes only three defenses to a camera-generated speed citation: If the defendant can prove the cited vehicle was reported stolen, if the person who received the notice is not the owner of the vehicle, or if the speed-timing device is not calibrated in accordance with law.

“Sorry, that is baloney,” Spera said. “The 14th Amendment to the Constitution guarantees I have the right to present any evidence in my defense. Last time I checked, we live in the United States.”

Spera was not arguing about the calibration of the device; he said he’s obviously not qualified to assess that and didn’t even know it was there. He and his wife, Bonnie, documented by video and still photos that there were no warning signs of the presence of photo enforcement where they had been driving, and that was his complaint.

They were entering Route 1 northbound from the Rock Hill Drive entrance ramp, near Neshaminy Mall, several big box stores and restaurants, and an LA Fitness gym he and Bonnie visit three times a week.

He received a warning and tickets for $75 and $150.

The hearing officer was skeptical he could consider the lack of warning signs because of the limitations on affirmative defenses in the law. But he took the case under consideration. PennDOT’s decision overrode the appeal.

Now, Spera said, he always drives 45 m.p.h. or slower on that stretch of highway. He’s not taking any chances.

Farry said that as a firefighter, he’s sensitive to the dangers that construction workers and first responders face on busy highways. He was the incident commander at the scene where Middletown Police Officer Christopher Jones was killed on the shoulder of Route 1 while issuing a traffic ticket in 2009. Another driver lost control of his car, which struck another vehicle that slammed into Jones’ police cruiser, pinning him.

“The intent of this program is great, to get people to slow down in construction zones and protect the safety of workers,” Farry said. “That makes sense, and no one wants to injure a worker. But the implementation has to be done right.”