Legislature(2003 - 2004)

05/03/2004 03:23 PM House JUD

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 255 - ILLEGAL USE TRAFFIC PREEMPTION DEVICE                                                                                
Number 0834                                                                                                                     
CHAIR McGUIRE announced that the  next order of business would be                                                               
CS  FOR SENATE  BILL NO.  255(FIN), "An  Act relating  to traffic                                                               
preemption devices."                                                                                                            
Number 0883                                                                                                                     
DENNIS  MICHEL, Staff  to Senator  Gene Therriault,  Alaska State                                                               
Legislature, sponsor, on behalf  of Senator Therriault, said that                                                               
traffic  preemption devices  are used  to change  stoplights from                                                               
red  to green  in the  direction one  is traveling  in, and  this                                                               
allows one to  pass through intersections without  having to wait                                                               
on  traffic coming  from other  directions.   Traffic  preemption                                                               
devices have been used by  emergency response providers in Alaska                                                               
for  the   past  15  years.     Unfortunately,   because  traffic                                                               
preemption  devices are  available  for purchase  by the  public,                                                               
their use by the public in the  Lower 48 has led to accidents and                                                               
traffic problems.                                                                                                               
MR.  MICHEL explained  that  SB  255 would  make  it illegal  for                                                               
someone  who is  not  either an  emergency  response provider  or                                                               
driving a state  or municipal road maintenance  vehicle or public                                                               
transit   vehicle   to   use   a   traffic   preemption   device.                                                               
Additionally, before a  public transit vehicle can  use a traffic                                                               
preemption  device,   it  has  to   be  approved  by   the  local                                                               
municipality's "general council."                                                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE GARA  said he supports  the bill, but  opined that                                                               
those who install  such devices are guilty of  the worst conduct.                                                               
He  suggested  that  the  sponsor should  look  into  creating  a                                                               
criminal  penalty  for  those   who  install  traffic  preemption                                                               
devices in the  vehicles of people who are not  authorized to use                                                               
such devices.                                                                                                                   
MR. MICHEL indicated he would research that issue.                                                                              
REPRESENTATIVE   GRUENBERG  mentioned   that  the   "firefighters                                                               
association" has  relayed to him  that this  issue is one  of its                                                               
top three legislative priorities.                                                                                               
MR. MICHEL concurred.                                                                                                           
Number 1119                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  ANDERSON moved  to  report CSSB  255(FIN) out  of                                                               
committee  with individual  recommendations and  the accompanying                                                               
fiscal notes.                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE  GRUENBERG  asked  whether [unauthorized]  use  of                                                               
traffic preemption devices has caused accidents.                                                                                
MR.  MICHEL  reiterated that  there  have  been reports  of  such                                                               
occurring in the Lower 48.   He added, "But because most of these                                                               
devices are not illegal at the  time of the accident, they aren't                                                               
factored in  on other  accidents, so I'm  sure there's  more than                                                               
what is reported."                                                                                                              
REPRESENTATIVE  GRUENBERG  offered  his belief  that  intentional                                                               
unauthorized  use of  a traffic  preemption device  would not  be                                                               
considered negligence per  se, and asked whether  there have been                                                               
any  civil  cases  regarding  this issue  or  whether  any  state                                                               
statutes address the civil aspect of it.                                                                                        
MR. MICHEL  said he did not  believe so, adding, "I  know, of the                                                               
states that have enacted bills  to this extent, that they haven't                                                               
gone as  far as  civil cases;  most times  they're able  to catch                                                               
them  before they  cause  the accidents  and  ... therefore  they                                                               
don't need to address it."                                                                                                      
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG remarked:                                                                                              
     It might  be worth doing  because I could  see somebody                                                                    
     causing  a terrific  accident, and  actually, not  only                                                                    
     the accident  there, but contributing to  the emergency                                                                    
     - somebody has  a heart attack and the  ambulance is in                                                                    
     an accident  and never saves  life, or  there's another                                                                    
     accident  and  the  fire  truck  doesn't  make  it  and                                                                    
     there's  a  horrible  fire.     So  they  could  really                                                                    
     contribute  to two,  different, terrible  events.   You                                                                    
     might want to take a look at that.                                                                                         
REPRESENTATIVE GARA opined, however:                                                                                            
     I  don't think  there'd be  a need  to take  a look  at                                                                    
     that. ... I  think it'd still be  clearly admissible in                                                                    
     a  civil  case, it  would  clearly  be an  exacerbating                                                                    
     circumstance,  [and]  probably  subject the  person  to                                                                    
     punitive damages -  as it should - and once  we make it                                                                    
     a  crime,  that  would  be   relevant  to  the  court's                                                                    
     analysis as to how sanctionable  that conduct is in the                                                                    
     civil case.  I don't think  we need to do any more work                                                                    
     on that.                                                                                                                   
Number 1230                                                                                                                     
CHAIR  McGUIRE asked  whether there  were any  objections to  the                                                               
motion to  report CSSB  255(FIN) out of  committee.   There being                                                               
none,  CSSB  255(FIN)  was  reported  from  the  House  Judiciary                                                               
Standing Committee.                                                                                                             

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