A remote control device that instantly changes traffic lights from red to green would be a dream for any Valley driver, but that dream is turning into a reality for the Gilbert Police Department.
Last month, the Town Council approved a six-month pilot program that will test traffic signal interrupters to be used in 20 marked police cars. The interrupters, which cost $2,000 each, will debut in the next two to three months and will remain if they are successful.
The interrupters consist of a continuously flashing white strobe light that is attached to the police vehicle. The light sends out a code that communicates to sensors placed on some city stoplights and signals them to turn green when the police vehicle approaches.
The device would be automatically activated on the vehicles when they are responding to a life-threatening emergency and have their sirens on and lights flashing. They would not be used for things such as routine traffic stops or to catch speeders.
Safety and the possibility to shorten emergency response times were two of the main reasons why the program was proposed.
“Limitless stories reveal sobering truths about mistakes made by drivers, people unwilling to wait for emergency vehicles to pass when they have a green light before them,” Sgt. Andrew Duncan said. “In an emergency, seconds do count and can often mean the difference between life and death.”
Early last month, a Gilbert police car that was moving through an intersection on a red light was involved in a collision with another vehicle. Duncan said that crash played a small role in pursuing the test program.
“Entering an intersection is one of the most dangerous aspects of a police officer’s job,” Lt. Joe Ruet said. “Sometimes people do not hear the sirens or see the lights, or do not pull over far enough to the curb. Sometimes people do not pull over at all.”
Gilbert police have already undertaken alternative measures to prevent crashes and make their cars stand out.
“We have put red and blue lights on the push bumpers of our police cars so that we can be more visible to other motorists when approaching an intersection,” Ruet said. “The interrupters are just another tool to ensure a safer environment for our officers to work in and for the motorists on the street.”
In the town’s research, “the transmitters have been proven to be fairly successful in responding to emergencies,” said Town Manager George Pettit, who first proposed the program. Several Valley fire departments have been using the technology for more than 10 years. Gilbert would be the first police department in the Valley to use signal interrupters.
Pettit said part of the reason why other police and fire departments may not use interrupters could be cost, as well as the dislike of interruption devices by city traffic managers.
“Interrupters stop the normal cycle of traffic,” Pettit said. “Sometimes there can be a five to seven minute disruption before things get back to normal again.”