Legislature(2003 - 2004)

03/19/2004 08:05 AM Senate JUD

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= 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                                                               
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.                                                                      

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