Effort to ban traffic-light changers advances in Texas

| 5/5/2005

The Texas House has approved a bill that would outlaw the possession of devices that can change some traffic signals from red to green.

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.

Sponsored by Rep. Glen Hegar, R-Katy, the bill is intended to deter anyone other than public safety and transit agencies from possessing mobile infrared transmitters, or MIRTs.

Hegar’s bill – HB364 – calls for violators to face up to a $500 fine.

Three other efforts under review in the Legislature also propose to make unauthorized possession illegal. Bills offered by Sen. Kim Brimer, R-Fort Worth, and Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, call for anyone caught with a device to pay up to a $2,000 fine and/or spend up to six months in jail. A bill sponsored by Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, calls for those with a device to face a fine up to $10,000 and/or two to 10 years in prison.

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 device has been in use at intersections since the early 1970s.