Traffic-light changers outlawed in Washington state

| 5/10/2005

Gov. Christine Gregoire has signed a bill to outlaw devices that can change some traffic signals from red to green from as far away as 1,500 feet.

Traffic-light changers are 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 few hundred dollars.

The new law, previously HB1113, passed unanimously in the state House and Senate.

It is intended to deter anyone other than public safety and transit agencies from possessing, selling or owning so-called mobile infrared transmitters, or MIRTs.

A person caught using, selling or buying a device would face a fine of up to $5,000 and/or jail time of up to one year. Someone simply caught with a device would face a $1,000 fine and/or up to 90 days in jail. If the devices’ use causes an accident, violators would face a $10,000 fine and/or five years in prison; if someone were killed, a violator could receive a $20,000 fine and/or 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 light-changing mechanisms have been in use at intersections since the early 1970s.