Now anyone can breeze through congested intersections just like the police, thanks to a $300 dashboard device that changes traffic lights from red to green, making nasty commutes a thing of the past and leaving other drivers open-mouthed at your ability to manipulate traffic.
But what if everyone had one?
That's the fear of traffic control officials, who believe chaos would take over the roads. That's also the potential facing communities from Troy to Washington Township as Internet-marketed knockoffs of the device -- originally intended only for police and fire vehicles -- have become available to the public.
The knockoffs have traffic engineers investigating whether lockout measures will work against the copycats and whether hundreds of thousands of dollars in traffic technology investments will become obsolete.
Police are worried about the possibility of intersection chaos if people
duel over control for lights. But even more fundamentally, the dashboard device may be impossible to detect even from a police car right next to it, and it may be perfectly legal anyway.
"The potential for chaos is enormous," Macomb County Sheriff Mark Hackel said.
The traffic light changer, called the MIRT for mobile infrared transmitter, emits a beam with a 1,500-foot range to a receiver installed at the intersection, which changes the light immediately, allowing an intersection to clear before a fire or rescue truck approaches.
Neat! Doctors, of course, should have this. Actually since the government owns the streets and the lights it can do whatever it wants. But I think this should be like insurance -- if you behave, you get rewarded. Reeeeally good drivers should get this priviledge, for those late night empty street drives, and if they abuse it they lose it.
Or we could approach the ultimate in traffic control -- intersections that tabulate votes from the idling cars. It might be more efficient, if everyone had one and the software was properly written. It has to be better than the intersections in Worcester, timed for rush hour at 10 PM and timed for Senior Citizen's Crosswalk Day every morning at 8 AM.
Or, if it was pricey, it could showcase and simultaneously widen the gap between the haves vs. have-nots. Fastlane doesn't do this because it's so cheap. But I bet people heading to work in South Natick, waiting for the lights to change on 27, would start to resent the Lexuses on Rte 9 heading to their office park, with their traffic control modules and their urgent lifestyle.
Enough rambling! Can tech like this even be stopped when it's for sale already? Like radar detectors, it will become something you use with some benefit and some risk.
UPDATE: On May 3, 2004, I coined the term "grapeshit" -- when occurrances are apeshit in a great way. Spread the word.