Joe Lavin

December 16, 2003

Right of Way for All


How would you like to have your very own traffic light changer? Many traffic lights come with sensors that can receive signals from emergency vehicles. For example, if firefighters are racing towards a fire, all they need to do is push a button and the lights in their way will turn green instantly.

Now, on the Internet, you can buy a cheap, knockoff version of this device for the low price of only $300. Just pony up the cash, and soon you might never have to stop for a traffic light again. Cut minutes off your commute! Eliminate all your rush hour frustration! Laugh at all the motorists you leave behind! Use that one phone call from jail after the police catch you!

The device is called a MIRT (for Mobile Infrared Transmitter), and it's simple to use. The MIRT has actually been around for years, though the media has only recently taken notice. It plugs into your cigarette lighter like a radar detector and will send out an infrared beam that can change traffic lights up to 1,500 feet away. It doesn't work on all lights, only the "smart" ones with the right equipment. Still, it's not a bad deal for $300, though, as one person on Slashdot pointed out, that doesn't include all the money you'll need for bail if you're ever caught using one of these devices.

Interestingly, most areas don't actually have laws against this, although they are quickly being written up. It's not even illegal to buy one in most places. A MIRT may be perfectly legal, but you still don't want to be pulled over by the police with one of these in your car. Faster than you can say "impersonation of a police officer," you'll be sitting in a jail cell, looking back fondly on all that time you used to spend waiting for red lights to turn green.

Still, it's definitely an appealing device. I don't drive often, but, whenever I do, I've always thought that the cars I drive have been secretly equipped with an opposite device that turns all street lights to red just for me. It's at least gratifying to know that it's now possible for me to be on the other side of that bad luck.

I'm especially curious about what will happen should more than one car in an intersection have one of these devices. Will there be a collision as all lights turn green, or will one of the drivers win out by pressing his MIRT just a little quicker than the other guy? At any rate, it could be a new, high-tech version of Chicken, and I can't wait to watch.

You probably think this is an incredibly selfish device, but the next time you're at a red light, you know you'll be thinking about it. I don't even own a car now, and I want one too. After all, I'm already a big fan of the pedestrian walk button at traffic lights. I enjoy making cars stop with the push of a single button. I like walking into crosswalks too because cars are then obligated to stop for me. (I live in the Boston area. Who says I'm not into extreme sports?) I'm glad to see that when I'm driving, I can now retain this power. Sorry, buddy, you have to stop. I've got the "It's All About Me" button on my dashboard.

Granted, if we all rush out to buy the "It's All About Me" button, then we might have a problem, and don't think the authorities aren't worried about this. Recently, The Detroit News ran a front page article about how the police are desperately hoping people don't discover these devices -- smart move putting it on the front page, guys -- but you can understand their anxiety. If we all get one of these devices, then suddenly every light will be green, and the roads will be a mess. There'll be constant gridlock. The only way drivers will get anywhere at all is by cutting other drivers off, and every single day there will be terrible accidents. In short, chaos will rule the roadways.

Here, in Boston, we won't notice the difference, but what about the rest of the country?


©2003 Joe Lavin

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