Legislature(2003 - 2004)

02/12/2004 03:35 PM Senate STA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
          SB 255-ILLEGAL USE TRAFFIC PREEMPTION DEVICE                                                                      
CHAIR GARY STEVENS  announced SB 255 to be  up for consideration.                                                               
He noted  a committee  substitute (CS) had  been prepared  and he                                                               
would like a motion to adopt it as the working document.                                                                        
SENATOR  JOHN  COWDERY  made  a  motion to  adopt  CSSB  255,  \D                                                               
version. There was no objection and it was so ordered.                                                                          
CHAIR GARY STEVENS asked Mr. Michel to step forward and speak to                                                                
the bill.                                                                                                                       
DENNIS  MICHEL,  legislative  aide to  Senator  Gene  Therriault,                                                               
explained  that   the  CS  pertains   to  splitting   Section  1,                                                               
subsection (b)  into two parts.  Added is a second  section, (2),                                                               
which  includes   authorized  employees  of  the   Department  of                                                               
Transportation and Public Facilities to  the group of people that                                                               
may possess or  use traffic preemption devices  for official road                                                               
maintenance related purposes.                                                                                                   
CHAIR  GARY STEVENS  noted the  committee hadn't  heard the  bill                                                               
previously and  it would be  helpful if  Mr. Michel would  give a                                                               
brief synopsis to highlight its importance.                                                                                     
MR.  MICHEL began  by informing  members that  traffic preemption                                                               
devices are  readily available over  the Internet to  anyone with                                                               
the money  to buy  one. The  purchaser must  check a  box stating                                                               
they are an emergency service  provider, but there's no follow up                                                               
so you won't be caught if you  lie. As a result, a growing number                                                               
of civilians own and use these devices.                                                                                         
SB 255 makes  it unlawful to possess or use  a traffic preemption                                                               
device if  you aren't operating  an emergency vehicle.  Those who                                                               
may  use  the  devices  include  authorized  state  or  municipal                                                               
employees  who  are  installing, repairing,  or  maintaining  the                                                               
devices. As  previously stated, the CS  includes DOT/PF employees                                                               
in the group that may possess  or use the devices for authorized,                                                               
road maintenance related purposes.                                                                                              
SENATOR COWDERY  asked if this  would include  private businesses                                                               
that put out cones for traffic control.                                                                                         
MR.  MICHEL replied  as long  as the  company is  conducting road                                                               
maintenance  type work  authorized by  the DOT/PF  they would  be                                                               
allowed to  use the  devices. He  noted, however,  that emergency                                                               
vehicles  such as  police, fire  and ambulances  use the  devices                                                               
more frequently.                                                                                                                
SENATOR  COWDERY  questioned  whether wrecking  trucks  would  be                                                               
MR. MICHEL  acknowledged he wasn't  able to answer  the question,                                                               
but would be happy to find out.                                                                                                 
SENATOR COWDERY  then inquired about getting  radio stations that                                                               
use horns  and sirens in  their on-air advertising to  stop doing                                                               
so.  A constituent,  in all  seriousness, asked  him to  pose the                                                               
question, he said.                                                                                                              
MR. MICHEL conceded that it would  overstep his bounds to give an                                                               
answer, but he would make an inquiry.                                                                                           
CHAIR GARY STEVENS  gleaned that the intent is  for these devices                                                               
to be  used in an official  capacity only and inquired  where the                                                               
CS states that  a legal and authorized preemption  device may not                                                               
be used if there is no emergency.                                                                                               
MR. MICHEL read  subsection (c) (1) on page 2  where an emergency                                                               
vehicle is defined.                                                                                                             
CHAIR  GARY  STEVENS  replied  the  definition  of  an  emergency                                                               
vehicle is clear.  However, it isn't clear that  they intend that                                                               
the emergency  vehicle be on  an emergency  mission for it  to be                                                               
authorized to have and use  a traffic preemption device. He asked                                                               
Mr. Michel whether he thought that might be at all confusing.                                                                   
MR. MICHEL  admitted it is a  bit confusing and he  could look at                                                               
the wording.                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  COWDERY  brought up  the  traffic  control issue  again.                                                               
"There's  a lot  of traffic  control [that]  goes on  here, under                                                               
contract to the  private sector... I don't know if  that would be                                                               
a description of an emergency, but  the fact is they're out there                                                               
in high  traffic zones." He  used a  hockey game at  the Sullivan                                                               
Arena as an example.                                                                                                            
CHAIR  GARY  STEVENS agreed  that  is  one of  several  important                                                               
questions that must be addressed.                                                                                               
SENATOR COWDERY stated  he would take advice  from the Department                                                               
of Transportation (DOT) and the Alaska State Troopers or police.                                                                
MR. MICHEL said he previously  contacted the troopers, North Star                                                               
Volunteer  Fire Department  and the  Department of  Public Safety                                                               
(DPS) and  he would  take the questions  raised back  for further                                                               
MR. MICHEL had no additional comments.                                                                                          
GARY  POWELL, Alaska  State  Fire Marshall  and  director of  the                                                               
Division of  Fire Prevention, DPS,  testified that, "In  a number                                                               
of Alaskan  communities, traffic preemption is  very important to                                                               
safe and efficient response to a genuine emergency."                                                                            
The  integrity of  the  system  is important  for  the public  to                                                               
support  the system,  he said.  Because the  devices are  readily                                                               
available  on  the  Internet,  it's  reasonable  to  assume  that                                                               
private  use  will  proliferate  and  traffic  controls  will  be                                                               
manipulated  unnecessarily. To  maintain public  support for  the                                                               
system they feel this is a  timely piece of legislation. He noted                                                               
the commissioner sent a letter of support.                                                                                      
SENATOR  LYMAN  HOFFMAN questioned  how  private  users would  be                                                               
MR. POWELL  reported that in  the system  he is familiar  with, a                                                               
log is maintained, which makes  it easy to determine when someone                                                               
other than  an authorized emergency  responder has  manipulated a                                                               
traffic  signal.   Locating  the   unauthorized  user   would  be                                                               
difficult however.                                                                                                              
SENATOR HOFFMAN pointed out that  it's unlikely that unauthorized                                                               
use would  be noted if there  isn't conflicting use at  a traffic                                                               
MR. POWELL responded that in the  course of a normal stop, police                                                               
observe the  equipment in a  car so  it's not impossible  for the                                                               
police to notice unauthorized possession.                                                                                       
SENATOR HOFFMAN wasn't convinced and  noted, "Many people are not                                                               
stopped for five and ten years."                                                                                                
MR. POWELL agreed.                                                                                                              
SENATOR COWDERY found nothing to  indicate that enforcement would                                                               
be successful.                                                                                                                  
MR.  POWELL  acknowledged  it  would  be  difficult  to  pinpoint                                                               
unauthorized  use  without  technology to  capture  transmissions                                                               
from  the  devices.  Although  he wasn't  sure,  he  said,  "They                                                               
operate on  a receiver basis  so I would  expect, if it  became a                                                               
real problem something could be set up..."                                                                                      
CHAIR GARY  STEVENS noted  the bill doesn't  say it's  illegal to                                                               
use, "It says unlawful possession is a class A misdemeanor."                                                                    
SENATOR STEDMAN asked  for verification that there is  a log kept                                                               
when a law officer changes a signal.                                                                                            
MR. POWELL said  that is correct. The system he  is familiar with                                                               
logs the time a particular unit preempts a signal.                                                                              
SENATOR STEDMAN  commented it appears  that police would  know if                                                               
repetitive unauthorized use occurred in a particular area.                                                                      
MR. POWELL thought that would be correct.                                                                                       
SENATOR  COWDERY commented  he would  like  to follow  up on  the                                                               
issue of possession.                                                                                                            
MR. POWELL added  he would like to see the  bill include language                                                               
such as, "possession with the intent to use."                                                                                   
SENATOR  COWDERY  thought it  was  confusing  and asked  for  the                                                               
committee to work with the sponsor.                                                                                             
CHAIR GARY STEVENS asked Senator Guess if she had any questions.                                                                
SENATOR   GRETCHEN  GUESS,   participating  via   teleconference,                                                               
replied her questions had already been asked.                                                                                   
DAVE   TYLER,  Alaska   Fire   Chiefs   Association,  spoke   via                                                               
teleconference  to describe  the system.  Traffic signals  have a                                                               
device  mounted on  top that  receives a  signal from  the strobe                                                               
light on  an emergency vehicle.  Unless the preemption  device is                                                               
very  high end,  the  user  will have  a  strobe  light on  their                                                               
vehicle that is visible to police and others.                                                                                   
He referred  to page  1, line  6 of the  original bill  and noted                                                               
that  the original  bill  addressed both  users  and people  that                                                               
possess a traffic preemption device.                                                                                            
CHAIR GARY  STEVENS thanked  him for pointing  that out  and said                                                               
his  staff  also pointed  that  out.  In  the proposed  CS,  Sec.                                                               
11.56.825 addresses both possession and use.                                                                                    
MR. TYLER  then answered Senator  Hoffman's question  about other                                                               
traffic   control   situations   saying  this   only   works   at                                                               
intersections that have a red/green  control light. The strobe on                                                               
the emergency  vehicle turns  that lane green  and all  the other                                                               
lanes  red   so  the  emergency   vehicle  has  control   of  the                                                               
intersection. If  more than one  vehicle with  a strobe is  at an                                                               
intersection,  the vehicle  that arrived  first has  control. The                                                               
idea is to create a safer  environment at the intersection not to                                                               
clear the intersection so you can go through at top speed.                                                                      
MR. TYLER  said he would  like to ask  Mr. Michel a  question. It                                                               
was his understanding  that the CS would include city  buses as a                                                               
local decision, but  that wasn't done. He noted  that air quality                                                               
and DOT  grants were  available to expand  these systems  and the                                                               
Municipality  of   Anchorage  was  interested.  With   regard  to                                                               
including buses, he explained that  the system is actually a two-                                                               
tier priority  system so that  fire and emergency  vehicles would                                                               
always have priority over a bus or other maintenance vehicle.                                                                   
CHAIR GARY STEVENS  stopped Mr. Tyler to say page  2, line 3, the                                                               
definition of  an emergency vehicle  excludes buses so  he wasn't                                                               
sure what he was asking.                                                                                                        
MR. TYLER replied the municipalities  wanted buses to be included                                                               
because of  the funding that  is available  if buses are  part of                                                               
the system.                                                                                                                     
His  final comments  were  to advise  that  wreckers and  vehicle                                                               
removal  equipment wouldn't  have  access  to traffic  preemption                                                               
devices and that  he too finds some  radio station advertizements                                                               
to be distracting.                                                                                                              
CHAIR  GARY STEVENS  said the  issue Senator  Cowdery raised  was                                                               
whether  the  vehicles that  move  the  traffic cones  to  direct                                                               
traffic after an  accident would have the  preemption devices. He                                                               
understands Mr. Tyler to say they would not be included.                                                                        
MR. TYLER repeated  he understands vehicle wreckers  would not be                                                               
SENATOR COWDERY asked how school buses fit into the picture.                                                                    
MR. TYLER  said they  don't fit in  the picture.  Municipal buses                                                               
were the only buses discussed.                                                                                                  
CHAIR GARY STEVENS  asked Mr. Michel to step  forward and clarify                                                               
the following:                                                                                                                  
   · The definition of official capacity.                                                                                       
   · Are vehicles that put out cones to divert traffic included?                                                                
   · The issue of enforcement                                                                                                   
   · Buses                                                                                                                      
MR. MICHEL dealt  with Senator Cowdery's question  first and told                                                               
members  that the  vehicles that  put  down and  pick up  traffic                                                               
cones don't use traffic preemptory  devices so they don't need to                                                               
be addressed in  the bill. They were considered  and the decision                                                               
was  that  it  wouldn't  be   safe  for  those  vehicles  to  use                                                               
preemption devices.                                                                                                             
He asked if buses were the next issue.                                                                                          
CHAIR GARY STEVENS replied Mr.  Tyler from the Alaska Fire Chiefs                                                               
Association asked the question about buses.                                                                                     
MR.  MICHEL   read  Department   of  Transportation   and  Public                                                               
Facilities from page  1, line 15, and said, "Under  there I would                                                               
see  a  bus   being  a  vehicle  of  that   public  facility  and                                                               
CHAIR GARY  STEVENS told him that  refers to the state  agency so                                                               
it wouldn't include municipal buses.                                                                                            
MR. MICHEL said, "Okay."                                                                                                        
SENATOR  HOFFMAN said  he thought  the testimony  was that  buses                                                               
should be eligible  to carry the devices,  but emergency vehicles                                                               
would take precedence in the two-tier priority system.                                                                          
MR. MICHEL agreed.                                                                                                              
SENATOR HOFFMAN  added Mr. Tyler's  point was that  the agreement                                                               
was that buses were to be included, but that didn't happen.                                                                     
CHAIR GARY STEVENS  asked if he was talking  about the definition                                                               
on page 2, line 3 and that it doesn't include buses.                                                                            
SENATOR  HOFFMAN  said,  "He's  saying there  should  be  another                                                               
section in here that buses are  included, but they do not preempt                                                               
emergency vehicles."                                                                                                            
CHAIR GARY  STEVENS asked  Mr. Michel  if he  knew why  Mr. Tyler                                                               
wanted to include buses.                                                                                                        
MR.  MICHEL replied,  "The  best  way to  describe  it is  you're                                                               
trying  to get  traffic  to flow  as easily  as  possible and  by                                                               
civilians  using  these traffic  preemption  devices  - they  can                                                               
disrupt traffic patterns  because all these lights  are timed. As                                                               
a bus using  it - that's a  bus filled with 50  people instead of                                                               
50 cars so that helps facilitate traffic flowing."                                                                              
CHAIR GARY STEVENS  asked if that means that a  bus would be able                                                               
to use a traffic preemption device at any time along its route.                                                                 
MR. MICHEL said, "That is correct sir."                                                                                         
CHAIR GARY STEVENS observed that might raise havoc in Anchorage.                                                                
MR.  MICHEL  suggested  a different  approach  might  be  better.                                                               
Emergency vehicles were  established as the primary  group to use                                                               
the devices and exemptions were listed subsequently.                                                                            
Perhaps, he proposed, clarifying how  the buses work is in order.                                                               
"In  other states,  buses  are  allowed to  use  car pool  lanes,                                                               
allowed to go  through right turn only lanes. So  this would just                                                               
be  another  way   for  a  bus  to  use   traffic  to  facilitate                                                               
CHAIR GARY  STEVENS asked if  he had any other  clarification. He                                                               
then noted Senator Cowdery had a question.                                                                                      
SENATOR COWDERY  said he would  like to clear  the constitutional                                                               
problem of possession before the bill was heard again.                                                                          
SENATOR  HOFFMAN added  the wording  should be,  "possession with                                                               
intent to use."                                                                                                                 
CHAIR  GARY  STEVENS  commented  the   idea  is  sound  and  good                                                               
intentioned, but a number of  questions were raised and he didn't                                                               
intend to move the  bill that day. He asked Mr.  Michel if he had                                                               
any more comments.                                                                                                              
MR. MICHEL replied he would address the questions next time.                                                                    
CHAIR GARY  STEVENS said it  was his  intention to hear  the bill                                                               
next week  if the schedule  permitted. He thanked Mr.  Michel and                                                               
held SB 255 in committee.                                                                                                       

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