Devices used by emergency vehicles to turn
red lights green are sold on the Internet to
the state says are in too big of a hurry.
By Diana Hefley
Everett Herald Writer
A cure for the red light blues is being hawked on the Internet
for anyone willing to shop around and slap down $400.
Devices commonly used by police and firefighters to change
traffic lights from red to green are being offered to commuters
on some web sites.
State lawmakers think that's a bad idea and are working to
ban the signal changers for anyone but emergency responders.
The state Senate unanimously passed a bill on Tuesday that
would make it a criminal offense for unauthorized people to
own, sell or use the devices. A similar bill is making its
way through the House.
"There are already a lot of traffic accidents. Can you
imagine the problems with safety these cause?" said bill
sponsor Sen. Paull Shin, D-Edmonds. "Technology is wonderful,
unless it's technology for the wrong purposes."
The devices emit a strobe or infrared light that is picked
up by a receiver mounted on the traffic signal. The receiver
changes the light to green within seconds.
Late last month, someone driving through Mountlake Terrace
triggered a green light while a maintenance crew was working
on a traffic signal at 44th Avenue W. and 212th Street SW.
The light changed unexpectedly and a red sports car went through
the intersection, Police Chief Scott Smith said.
"Unfortunately, there were no officers in the area,"
Currently, people caught using the device in Mountlake Terrace
face a traffic ticket carrying a $194 fine.
The proposed bill calls for making it a criminal violation
with a steeper fine and possible jail time.
Police and firefighters are applauding the bill, saying an
impatient driver could cause a deadly crash by changing lights.
"We have lights and sirens to warn people we're coming,"
Everett Fire Marshal Warren Burns said.
Smith said his officers are trained to use the equipment
with caution. "It is risky for just anyone do be using
these things," he said.
The light changers also can cause traffic nightmares, according
to Linda Mullen, a spokeswoman for the state Department of
Transportation. Traffic signals are timed to benefit the most
people, she said.
"There's the potential to make traffic worse for the
average commuter," Mullen said.
City engineers in Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace agree and
are looking at ways to encrypt the signals so only emergency
vehicles can trigger the lights.
"I'm not sure how often it's happening, but we know
the technology is out there," said Bill Frantz, Lynnwood
public works director.
Police and lawmakers don't know how often these devices are
A quick search on the Internet revealed a handful of Web
sites that offer the changers. The most common is a mobile
infrared transmitter -- a small device that can be mounted
on a vehicle dashboard and ranges from $300 to $500. Kits
to make your own also are available.
One Web site advertises to private investigators, doctors
and expecting couples, saying anyone can buy the signal changers.
Another site listed the names and phone numbers of dealers
around the country.
Dale Sanders of Snohomish was on that list. He became a registered
dealer by applying over the Internet. He did not want to comment
about who buys the devices from him.
The Senate bill is expected to go to the House Transportation
"I have no reason to believe it won't pass," Shin