Bid to ban traffic-signal changers in Iowa nears passage

| 4/22/2005

A bill that calls for banning devices that can change some traffic signals from red to green is closer to becoming state law in Iowa.

Senators unanimously approved the bill April 12. The effort, which previously passed the House 98-0, now heads to Gov. Tom Vilsack.

A traffic-light changer is designed to allow police, fire and other emergency officials to clear intersections before they approach.

Sponsored by Rep. Rich Arnold, R-Russell, the bill – HF717 – is intended to deter anyone other than public safety and transit agencies from selling, owning, possessing and/or using mobile infrared transmitters, or MIRTs. It calls for violators to face up to 30 days in jail and/or a $500 fine. Anyone caught using the device could also be required to perform community service.

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.