Massachusetts bill targets traffic-light changers

| Wednesday, August 10, 2005

A bill in the Massachusetts Legislature would outlaw 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. Timothy Toomey Jr., D-Cambridge, the bill is intended to deter anyone other than public safety and transit agencies from buying, selling or using the so-called mobile infrared transmitters, or MIRTs. Violators would face a fine ranging from $100 to $500 with at least a 30-day driver’s license suspension.

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.

The bill – H2127 – is in the Joint Transportation Committee.

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