ALBANY, N.Y. (WIVB) – It’s a device designed to help firefighters respond to calls quickly. But one state lawmaker says it’s getting into the wrong hands. And it could impact your drive home from work.
Devices which alter traffic control signals are commonplace around fire stations. Lancaster firefighters Tom Kukoleca use them each time they get a call.
“Our ability to get out quickly is, I would say, a lifesaver,” Kukoleca said.
“We get a call. When our crew is ready, we’ll load the apparatus,” he explained. “When we’re ready to roll of the ramp, we’ll come and hit the traffic signal.”
That button affects the traffic light at the intersection of Central Ave. and Broadway. The light turns red for southbound, eastbound, and westbound traffic, allowing the emergency vehicles to roll right out.
Assemblyman Michael Montesano, who represents part of Nassau County on Long Island, says such a device was created years ago specifically to help emergency vehicles get to 911 calls quicker.
“Like any other electronic devices that get out on the market, it created like a black market for them,” Montesano said. “People were starting to get them and then controlling the traffic lights on the roads they were travelling.”
The assemblyman said he does not believe the manufacturer of this device intended for it to get out for use in the general public. But he believes the technology is easy to get out there.
The state’s Vehicle and Traffic Law already prohibits someone “without lawful authority,” from interfering with any official traffic control device. Montesano is co-sponsoring legislation to make it a misdemeanor to use a pre-emption device and a felony if use of one results in injury or death.
“I’m pretty certain in a way that this thing could exist in Upstate regions,” Montesano said.
City of Tonawanda police Captain Fredric Foels agrees that this technology shouldn’t be in the hands of someone who would indiscriminately use it. But he points out the device wouldn’t work on all lights. He says in his city, all lights are either timed or traffic-actuated signals, at which probes detect waiting vehicles. But Foels says the city has no pre-emptive signals.
“But that’s not to rule out there’s some municipalities in Western New York that have them,” he pointed out.
Chris Horvatits is an award-winning anchor and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2017. See more of his work here.