Legislature(2003 - 2004)
03/19/2004 08:05 AM Senate JUD
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 255-ILLEGAL USE TRAFFIC PREEMPTION DEVICE MR. DENNIS MISCHEL, staff to Senator Gene Therriault, sponsor, explained to members that under current law, it is not illegal to use a traffic preemption device in Alaska. A traffic preemption device can be used by a driver to change a traffic light from red to green. The purpose of SB 255 is to ban these devices, with exceptions, because they disrupt traffic and can cause dangerous intersection conditions. Under SB 255, emergency responders, such as firemen, police officers, ambulance drivers, as well as state maintenance workers and municipal bus drivers, would be exempt. He offered to answer questions. CHAIR SEEKINS asked how one gets a traffic preemption device. MR. MISCHEL said they can be directly ordered from the manufacturer and they can be purchased on the Internet. To purchase one on the Internet, the buyer must check a box saying he or she is an emergency response provider but no verification is done. He has also heard they can be purchased on E-bay. SENATOR FRENCH asked if these devices operate on the same frequency nationwide. MR. MISCHEL said they do but communities can encrypt their devices, which the [Municipality of Anchorage] does. He noted most of the devices in the Lower 48 are not encrypted. SENATOR FRENCH asked if a device without an encryption code that was purchased on E-bay could change a traffic signal in a community with encryption codes. MR. MISCHEL replied, "Originally no, not the ones they buy from the Internet but encryption can be broken and once it's broken, it can get out there and then it reverts back to almost being un-encrypted. So this will keep them from actually possessing the devices, whether they're encrypted or not." SENATOR FRENCH pointed out that remote garage door openers are encrypted. He was unsure whether the encryption on traffic preemption devices is as simple or more complex than those devices. CHAIR SEEKINS took public testimony. MR. DAVID TYLER, President of the Alaska Fire Chiefs Association, stated support for SB 255. He explained that when approaching an intersection, the device turns the traffic signal green in the driver's direction of travel. He noted that traffic preemption devices in both Anchorage and Fairbanks are encrypted to the extent that the system monitors which device was used. MS. SHELLY OWENS, Health Program Manager with Community Health and Emergency Medical Services at the Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS), stated support for SB 255. The Federal Highway Administration (FHA) reported that in the year 2000, there were more than 2.8 million intersection related crashes, representing 44 percent of all reported crashes in that year and approximately 8500 fatalities. Although it is not known whether any of those crashes were related to traffic preemption device use, intersection safety has become a focus of several national traffic safety organizations. DHSS supports SB 255 because of the potential for tragic results caused by abuses of the devices by untrained persons. LIEUTENANT AL STOREY, Alaska State Troopers, Department of Public Safety (DPS), stated support for reasons mentioned in previous testimony. In addition, he noted that cities spend large amounts of money to design proper traffic flow systems, so disrupting a system for one's convenience by using traffic preemption device corrupts that entire process. SENATOR OGAN asked how traffic preemption devices work. LT. STOREY said the current technology involves an invisible infrared transmitter on the emergency vehicle. When the transmitter approaches an intersection equipped with a receiver, it activates the light function. SENATOR OGAN asked how the police could stop a person who is using a device if the transmission is invisible. LT. STOREY explained that the intent of SB 255 is to prevent people from buying the devices, but if they are used and cause an accident, they would likely be found during an investigation. He noted that some of the receivers in Fairbanks and Anchorage are able to identify which transmitter provides each signal. CHAIR SEEKINS pointed out the bill applies to a person who possesses or uses a traffic preemption device. He then asked Lt. Storey his opinion of allowing traffic preemption devices to be used for municipal buses and state maintenance vehicles. LT. STOREY said he understands the need for those vehicles to have them and that the system is able to prioritize transmissions so that an emergency vehicle would have a priority over a maintenance vehicle. CHAIR SEEKINS asked Lt. Storey if he believes that a private citizen using a device would pose a danger but a municipal bus driver would not. LT. STOREY said he suspects bus drivers would be municipal employees who are trained in the proper use of the device so as not to create a danger. SENATOR FRENCH asked if the preemption device overrides the normal green-yellow-red sequence and instantly changes a red light to a green light. LT. STOREY said it is his understanding the sequence is the same but it initiates the process quicker. 8:20 a.m. SENATOR OGAN noted that in some places the lights are timed so that a person can travel at a particular speed and avoid any red lights. He asked if the devices work on those lights and whether they would throw the entire timed system off. LT. STOREY said he does not know how they would work in those areas. In Anchorage, the devices currently work at the high use, most dangerous intersections that are hazardous to clear. With no further participants, CHAIR SEEKINS closed public testimony. He then said he is not comfortable with allowing every bus driver to have preemption devices because he fears they will be used if the bus is one minute off schedule. SENATOR OGAN shared that concern and said he could envision a bus driver using the device to get home by 5:00 p.m. Otherwise, he believes SB 255 is a great bill. SENATOR FRENCH commented that it appears the municipalities are figuring out ways to prioritize who can override a traffic light and when, yet the bill says operating an emergency vehicle, which precludes snow plows and buses. CHAIR SEEKINS clarified that Version Q was before committee members. He then noted that anyone authorized by the municipal department of transportation or the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOTPF) can use a traffic preemption device, so a mayor could have one. SENATOR FRENCH interpreted that language to require the mayor to be operating maintenance equipment or a bus. SENATOR THERRIAULT referred to the language on page 1, lines 13- 15, and agreed with Senator French. In regard to the concern about allowing bus drivers and maintenance workers to use them, he felt comfortable giving the local councils discretion and authority over their particular areas because they are familiar with the traffic systems in their areas. CHAIR SEEKINS replied: ...I don't have a problem if that's what it is but then I just have to throw a little bit of cold water on the testimony that says that these are dangerous devices because we're going to let every public bus have one. I have some doubt about - then we're going to increase the danger for the public bus to get through on time but that's okay, if that's what we want to do. Some folks say well these are dangerous devices and they should only be used under unusual circumstances. I will bet that in Anchorage they will be used regularly on their buses. But if that's what they want to do, it's fine with me. I don't have a problem with that. SENATOR FRENCH thought they are used now on buses. There being no further discussion, SENATOR OGAN moved CSSB 255(STA) from committee with individual recommendations and its zero fiscal notes. Without objection, the motion carried.