On November 28, 1972 I took my first ride on the backstep of a fire engine. It was part of a demonstration for the news media (I was a 17-year-old reporter at WBJC-FM, the Community College of Baltimore radio station) of a new traffic signal control system the Baltimore City Fire Department was trying out. I recall thinking at the time how cool it might be to have one of these Optimcom strobes in your car. As it turns out, it took a while, but quite a few people are doing just that. It’s enough of a problem that Carlsbad, California is trying to do something about it.
Private drivers are starting to use illegal electronic devices to turn red lights green, Carlsbad officials said this week.
About two weeks ago, city transportation staff contacted police after an irregularity with traffic signals was noted, according to police spokeswoman Jodee Sasway. Traffic engineers found that motorists appeared to have used illegal signal preemption devices to change the lights, she said.
A driver was cited March 27 for possession of one of the devices at a traffic signal on Armada Drive. Sasway said the fine for the violation of the state Vehicle Code would start at $2,000.
Signal preemptors are usually reserved for emergency vehicles, in fact they are illegal to own in the state of California. However, they can be purchased on-line. A quick search by San Diego 6 found devices like Opticom and Priority Green. These devices work by sending an infrared transmission to the signal light and instantly it changes from red to green.
“We don’t want you to use these devices in our city and we have the capability to catch you if you do,” said Jones.
Jones says the city recently installed a traffic light system that’s now able to detect preemptive devices. By linking all 55 lights on the main corridors in town, alerts immediately surface when something isn’t right. City officials were able to detect the signal from the van with the system and within minutes the driver of the van was caught by a nearby motorcycle police officer.
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There was a much funnier version of this done years earlier by a TV station as an April Fools gag. I haven’t been able to find that one.