Legislature(2003 - 2004)
04/27/2004 01:40 PM House TRA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 255-ILLEGAL USE TRAFFIC PREEMPTION DEVICE CHAIR HOLM announced that the first order of business would be CS FOR SENATE BILL NO. 255(FIN), "An Act relating to traffic preemption devices." Number 0050 DENNIS MICHEL, Staff to Senator Gene Therriault, Alaska State Legislature, presented SB 255 on behalf of its sponsor, Senator Therriault. He explained that in Alaska traffic preemption devices (TPDs) were originally only used by emergency response providers. This legislation would only allow use of TPDs when en route to an official emergency. This legislation would make it a class A misdemeanor to own or operate TPDs in a nonofficial capacity. However, the legislation does include an exemption allowing maintenance personnel to repair or maintain these devices. There is also an exemption for state or municipal road maintenance vehicles such that in the middle of the night snowplows would be able [to utilize TPDs] and not have to stop at a stop light with a blade full of snow. The legislation also includes an exemption for public transit so that TPDs could be used in order to create more efficient bus service. The aforementioned would have to be approved by the local community. MR. MICHEL noted that SB 255 has three zero fiscal notes and one indeterminate fiscal note. Mr. Mischel stated that SB 255 is legislation that would increase the security of intersections and streets throughout the state. In response to Chair Holm, Mr. Michel confirmed that the thought behind the exemption for public transit is that when there is no one at the stoplight save the bus, the bus driver could press the button and not wait the few minutes for the light to cycle to green. He further noted that with these larger maintenance vehicles, the starting and stopping increases maintenance costs for the vehicle as well as creates pollution. Number 0320 REPRESENTATIVE STEPOVICH asked if public transit includes school buses. MR. MICHEL explained that the public transit exemption was included because Anchorage would like to permit the use of TPDs on its [city] bus, not a school bus. This [exemption] could be applied to school buses, although it would require a vote of the municipality. Number 0372 REPRESENTATIVE MASEK inquired as to the reason this legislation was introduced. MR. MICHEL said that currently TPDs aren't illegal, and therefore there is no data regarding whether [the unofficial use of] these devices have caused accidents. However, in the Lower 48 there have been situations in which the [unofficial] use of TPDs have caused accidents. This legislation is preventative. Mr. Michel explained that this legislation was brought to Senator Therriault by Dave Tyler (ph), North Star Fire Service, because Lower 48 fire chiefs have related problems with the use of TPDs. REPRESENTATIVE STEPOVICH asked if all the signals are fitted with this capability. MR. MICHEL replied no. Currently, only state roads have receivers for TPDs. In Anchorage, approximately 27 intersections on the large roads have these receivers. Anchorage and Fairbanks are special cases in that the city or municipality includes states roads in its city or borough, and therefore, [some state roads] appear to be city roads. CHAIR HOLM asked if there is any reason why Anchorage can't utilize TPDs on city or municipal roads. MR. MICHEL answered that he didn't believe so, but opined that only the state wanted the added costs of putting these [receivers for TPDs] on stoplights. Number 0555 TOM WILSON, Public Transportation, Municipality of Anchorage (MOA), said that MOA has been looking into using these TPD receivers on city roads. In fact, an ad hoc study group of several municipal agencies has been formed. The primary obstacle with moving forward on this is that the traffic department doesn't have the staff to perform the signal studies and the timing. However, there has been increased emphasis and interest in it. In response to Chair Holm, Mr. Wilson confirmed that Public Transportation with MOA is in favor of this legislation. Anecdotal information in the transit industry has illustrated that significant efficiencies can be achieved with the use of low-priority signal preemption. He emphasized that if this legislation passes, the transit portion of the legislation would be a low-priority device while emergency responders would continue to have a high-priority preemption. Therefore, if there was ever a conflict between the two, the high-priority preemption would take precedence. Studies have shown increases in efficiency as high as 46 percent in one case. Number 0722 REPRESENTATIVE STEPOVICH inquired as to the percentage of state and city traffic lights that don't have TPD receivers. MR. WILSON said that he didn't know, but agreed with Mr. Michel's earlier statement that 27 signals throughout MOA are fitted with the receivers. Therefore, MOA faces a steep curve in order to put in place an effective system. In further response to Representative Stepovich, Mr. Wilson said that he didn't know how many lights are in the MOA. Number 0856 ALLEN STOREY, Lieutenant, Central Office, Division of Alaska State Troopers, Department of Public Safety (DPS), began by testifying in support of this legislation because TPDs are certainly helpful to all emergency responders. He emphasized that one of the most dangerous things that emergency responders do is driving the vehicles and even more dangerous is transiting through intersections. Therefore, any device to help emergency responders make it [safely] through the intersections is welcome. However, the concern is that these TPDs are readily available on the open market and can be used by anyone for illegitimate purposes that result in chaos at intersections. The only legitimate use for TPDs is for emergency responders and government agencies, he stated. Number 0992 REPRESENTATIVE MASEK inquired as to how law enforcement would be able to catch an individual with a TPD in his or her vehicle. LIEUTENANT STOREY answered that for the most part law enforcement would have to directly observe use of the device. However, it could result from the investigation of an accident. CHAIR HOLM informed the committee that none of the lights in Kodiak have these receivers. REPRESENTATIVE STEPOVICH surmised that this legislation attempts to plan for the future and have [receivers] in the stoplights for use. LIEUTENANT STOREY agreed, but reminded the committee that there are already 27 devices in use in the Anchorage bowl and a fairly large number in Fairbanks as well. He reiterated the need to ensure that these devices are properly used only by those with a legitimate purpose. CHAIR HOLM commented that TPDs seem comparable to radar detection devices, which defeat traffic control. Therefore, he said this is probably a good thing. Number 1159 REPRESENTATIVE MASEK moved to report CSSB 255(FIN) out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying fiscal notes. There being no objection, it was so ordered. The committee took an at-ease from 1:59 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.