Traffic Light Switcher Makes Critics See Red
A dashboard device is being marketed that changes red traffic lights to green at the touch of a button. Police, fire and rescue vehicles have had access to such equipment for years, but according to an article in the Washington Post, the devices are becoming available to ordinary motorists thanks to advances in technology and a little help from the Internet.
Safety advocates are outraged, and news accounts in Michigan last week led to politicians there seeking a ban on the gadgets. "Every driver I know would like to have that power, but these devices could create serious safety hazards, not to mention the havoc they'd create at busy intersections where lights are carefully synchronized," said Sally Greenberg of Consumers Union. Highway officials say most states would consider it illegal to interfere with traffic in an intersection. The device won't work on just any traffic light, but it will work on most lights that authorities have equipped with infrared sensors that can be controlled by emergency services.
Maryland is one state that is vulnerable to interference. The state has an infrared control system on about 1,000 of 3,000 intersections maintained by the state, said Tom Hicks, director of traffic and safety for the Maryland State Highway Administration. About 100 of those lights have been equipped with secure sensors so the lights can't be changed by anyone without the proper code, but the rest are unprotected, Hicks said. In nearly 15 years of use, though, there is no evidence that any outsider has ever flipped a light illegally, he said.