Traffic-light changers targeted in New York

| 3/30/2005

A bill that would outlaw the use of devices that can change some traffic signals from red to green has passed the New York Senate.

A traffic-light changer is designed to allow police, fire and other emergency officials to clear intersections before they approach. But some drivers have managed to purchase them on the Internet for less than a couple of hundred dollars.

Senators voted 66-0 on March 16 to forward the bill to the New York House for consideration.

S281, offered by Sen. Owen Johnson, R-West Babylon, is intended to deter anyone other than public safety and transit agencies from using so-called mobile infrared transmitters, or MIRTs. Violators would face a fine as much as $300.

“The purpose of the existence of such devices is for emergency access and not for the convenience for someone who wants to get home earlier from work or to dodge traffic,” Johnson wrote. “Such devices flaunt public safety concerns and could cause serious personal injury or death on New York roadways.”

The devices, which sit on a vehicle’s dash, are not regulated by current federal standards because they rely on a beam of light instead of a radio wave to trigger the light-changing mechanisms that have been attached to some intersections.

When a signal changer on a traffic light detects an approaching emergency vehicle equipped with the device, the light responds accordingly. If the light is red, the signal changer will immediately give vehicles in other directions a yellow light, followed by a red light. The emergency vehicle will get a green light until it passes through the intersection.

The light-changing mechanisms have been in use at intersections since the early 1970s.