As Warren Brown says in this column, I’m a free-market kind of guy, but there are limits:
Some Internet entrepreneurs, apparently more interested in cash than in road rage, or the possibility of a fatal crash, have been offering MIRT and MIRT knockoffs for $300. Their pitches are quite tempting: “Never wait for a red light again!” and “Tired of Waiting for Red Lights?” and “Changes Stop Lights From Red to Green in Seconds.” Of course, there are buyers; and at the moment, the commerce is legal.
MIRT transmits an infrared beam, instead of a radio wave. The Federal Communications Commission regulates the use of radio waves. Infrared transmission falls outside of the agency’s purview. As a result, currently, there are no federal laws restricting civilian use of MIRT technology.
Federal regulation would help keep these off the market, but individual states can and should make sale, possession, or use of these devices illegal for anyone except public-safety personnel, such as police or fire departments. Another option would be to convert existing systems to radio-wave technology, but the change would be costly, and the wider transmission pattern could set off other traffic lights accidentally.
Private use for selfish purposes causes unnecessary danger to all drivers, as Brown illustrates:
It is rush hour. Cars are stacked up waiting for traffic signals to change. Someone gets tired of waiting. He pushes a button on his dashboard-mounted MIRT transmitter, which is plugged into his car’s 12-volt outlet. The device, using 15 watts of energy, sends an infrared beam 1,500 feet to a traffic-light receiver installed at the intersection. The red light facing his line of traffic instantly turns green, much to the surprise of motorists already moving through the intersection on an opposing green signal.
At best, there’d be one heck of a case of gridlock. At worst, someone gets killed or injured.
Actually, it doesn’t turn it instantly to green; it forces the other direction to red quickly first, but it’s the same effect, and it’s still very dangerous in high-volume traffic areas.
There will, of course, be a contingent of people who claim that regulating this equipment will be tantamount to government oppression and start talking about black helicopters, the UN and one-world government, and blah blah blah, but they will be few and entertaining. States shouldn’t wait for Congress to act — they should take action on their own ahead of federal regulation.