U.S. officials worry about civilians obtaining traffic-light changers
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U.S. officials worry about civilians obtaining traffic-light changers

Knight Ridder Newspapers | March 15, 2005
BY AMAN BATHEJA

FORT WORTH, Texas -(KRT) - The tag lines on various Web sites make them seem too good to be true.

"CHANGE STOPLIGHTS FROM RED TO GREEN IN SECONDS!"

"NOW YOU CONTROL THE INTERSECTIONS!"

The devices, mobile infrared transmitters, allow a person to change an upcoming traffic light from red to green from as far as 1,500 feet.

They are intended for emergency personnel, but sales of the devices to civilians on the Internet are making authorities nervous.

While the devices can cost more than $1,000 each from official dealers such as 3M, various Web sites sell knockoffs for less than $200.

Most of the Internet sites selling the devices advertise them for emergency personnel, but some broaden the definition to include private investigators and funeral homes. Some sites also claim to target groups that have a right to the technology but could afford only the cheaper versions, like volunteer fire departments.

Due mostly to the availability of the cheaper versions online, police and fire officials have been hearing accounts of signal changers being used by civilians in other states, Aghamalian said.

"We can't have that type of technology in the wrong hands," said Brandon Aghamalian, director of governmental relations for Fort Worth, Texas.

Four bills before the Texas Legislature this session propose to make it illegal for anyone but emergency personnel to possess a signal changer.

Using such a device is already against the law because it is illegal to tamper with a traffic control device, said Tela Mange, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Safety.

A bill by state Sen. Kim Brimer, R-Fort Worth, would make possessing a signal changer a Class B misdemeanor. A bill proposed by Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, would make possession a third-degree felony.

There have been no reported problems with unauthorized use of the devices locally, said Harry Jones, supervisor of the Fort Worth Police Department's traffic division.

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Traffic Signal Changers

For emergency vehicles racing toward a crisis, signal changers can mean the difference between life and death. They allow emergency crews to respond to an emergency more quickly and reduce the chance of an accident when they are passing through intersections.

When a signal changer on a traffic light detects a properly equipped emergency vehicle approaching, 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. Then the emergency vehicle will be given a green light.

If the light is already green, it will remain green until the vehicle has passed.

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