Bill would ban traffic light devices

Private individuals would be fined or jailed for using them.
Monday, February 16, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:17 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Imagine a device that would let you change a traffic light from green to red without even stopping. Traffic preemption emitter devices shoot infrared beams at traffic signals, causing the lights to cycle from green to red early. The devices are only intended for police and emergency personnel, but some Missouri lawmakers warn the devices can be purchased by anyone willing to shell out $300.

Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, is one of four state lawmakers working to ban the general public from using the device.

“No one should be in possession of it unless they have an emergency purpose for it,” Engler said.

Police and emergency personnel have used the devices to cut response times for over 30 years, and Tim Gow wants to keep it that way. Gow is the president of Fac of America, whose mobile infrared transmitter, or MIRT, hit the market last summer.

3M introduced the technology MIRTs use in the 1970s. The MIRT’s low cost, less than half the price of other similar units at $300, makes it accessible to public safety officials and more attractive to unauthorized users.

The devices are also available on the Internet. A check one morning on eBay showed a MIRT on sale for $295. By the afternoon, the item had been removed from eBay. Gow said it had been removed at Fac of America’s request. He said the company has a full-time employee who searches the Internet and seeks removal of any MIRT products for sale.

Gow said his company takes every opportunity to make sure his product doesn’t end up in the wrong hands.

“The MIRT is lifesaving equipment,” Gow said. “I would go after the unauthorized user and whoever they bought it from and certainly make an example of them.” Gow said his company requires buyers to submit documentation from employers with their order. Background checks are performed to verify that the buyer has been properly identified.

Other Web sites offering similar devices only offer the disclaimer that “by purchasing this product you are acknowledging you are an authorized user and (we) will be held harmless for any unauthorized or irresponsible use.”

No cases have been reported of people other than emergency personnel using the devices in Missouri, according to Missouri’s Public Safety Department.

If the measure passes, an individual using the device illegally could face up to a year in jail or a $1,000 fine.

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