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October 27, 2003 12:48 PM   Subscribe

How much would you pay for a pushbutton in your car that changes red traffic lights to green? Like in that dopey Italian Job movie? The correct answer is $300.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders (29 comments total)

 
a) Illegal in most places (where I live for sure)
b) You can do this with your headlights for free (no, don't ask, I haven't tried, but I know this to be true)
c) These have been available for ages from many different suppliers. In Ontario, they've been using these for years, for example.
posted by shepd at 12:55 PM on October 27, 2003


Cool!

Now, if I was one of those selfish types driving a Hummer with no regard for the safety of my fellow man, I would install one of these just to show my neighbors (the Joneses) that I am even more selfish than they are.
posted by caddis at 12:59 PM on October 27, 2003


Also, try this if you are crazy. 1995 2600 article. It takes this long to make it to the news? And $300? Trust me, this is a $5 project. At most. You might want the other $295 for bail, though.
posted by shepd at 1:00 PM on October 27, 2003


I don't see how this could work immediately since in order to go from red to green on the y axis, it has to go from green through yellow to red on the x axis - so there's gotta be some lag time.

But really, rather than trying to block these, they should work towards smart traffic lights that receive signals from all cars and change according to the most effective traffic patterns possible (ie, never make people wait at empty intersections, etc). Emergency vehicles could have specific priority codes which would be illegal for regular drivers to use.
posted by mdn at 1:12 PM on October 27, 2003


They do have smart traffic lights in my neighborhood. I inevitably will sit at 3 red lights IN A ROW in a half-mile stretch while driving home. Definitely has to be happening intentionally!
posted by banjotwang at 1:15 PM on October 27, 2003


don't see how this could work immediately since in order to go from red to green on the y axis, it has to go from green through yellow to red on the x axis

I was in a taxi up here in Ottawa that had one of these four or five years ago, and when he used it on a red light, the light that went from green to red was only yellow for about a quarter/half-second or so. It's pretty much immediate.
posted by Jairus at 1:17 PM on October 27, 2003


When I'm waiting for a red light at an empty intersection in the bad part of town at night, I always have the following thoughts, in this order:

1. Bruce Springsteen would be blowing this light. Go!
2. But I can't because I'm a good citizen, and we're trying to have a society here. Stay.
3. Or is it my reflexive German obedience to authority? What's next for me, Party rallies? Go! Go, democratic freedom-loving American!
4. Any cops around? Stay. (or Go!, depending)

And now I can add a fifth thought: wishing for the pushbutton thing.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:25 PM on October 27, 2003


Ahh yes, the big rush to nowhere. sigh.
posted by LouReedsSon at 1:32 PM on October 27, 2003


They’re also useful against sensor lights that have trouble noticing motorcycles.
posted by Tenuki at 1:32 PM on October 27, 2003


I saw on TV that Ted Nugent has one of these and a police radar scrambler in one of his trucks. The Nuge is invincible.
posted by Homeskillet Freshy Fresh at 1:40 PM on October 27, 2003


I'd love to get one and sit out front in an easy chair and change the light to red just as people are zooming toward the green. Then back to green when they slam on their brakes. Afternoons of fun! Just like when Roscoe would drop the stoplight out of the tree when the Duke boys were going past.

b) You can do this with your headlights for free (no, don't ask, I haven't tried, but I know this to be true)

Um, what?
posted by gottabefunky at 1:50 PM on October 27, 2003


Im making my own, turning around and selling them for $500.
posted by Keyser Soze at 1:55 PM on October 27, 2003


Wow. This is not illegal ... how? I mean, I can understand how it's not illegal under radio interference laws as it's infrared ... but surely there must be some law against interfering with traffic signals?

Oh, and just to bring us fully up to date with the modern world: OH NO! Just imagine what could happen if TERRORISTS used these! Won't somebody please think of the children?
posted by kaemaril at 1:55 PM on October 27, 2003


In Madison, WI, some of the major intersections have receptors that change the lights when they catch the flashing of the ambulance and police strobes.

I can confirm that flashing your brights at them at night works.
posted by o2b at 2:01 PM on October 27, 2003


This gadget actually makes all the lights red, in all directions. Thus police and other emergency vehicles can pass through an open intersection using their lights and sirens.

It doesn't turn your light green.
posted by DragonBoy at 2:08 PM on October 27, 2003


I've done the headlights trick before, mostly late at night when I'm the only car on the road and the intersection isn't equipped with one of those inductive sensors.

Basically, the sensor that responds to the IR from firetrucks also responds to a quick flash of brights from your car's headlights. It looks like a camera mounted near the light itself, and it usually only at certain intersections.
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 2:12 PM on October 27, 2003


Most of the lights in Dallas will respond to a quick jolt of high beams and change too.
posted by dejah420 at 2:44 PM on October 27, 2003


But really, rather than trying to block these, they should work towards smart traffic lights that receive signals from all cars and change according to the most effective traffic patterns possible (ie, never make people wait at empty intersections, etc).

I like it. Suppressing technology is rarely the answer; adapting it to solve existing problems is much better.
posted by rushmc at 2:46 PM on October 27, 2003


[mdn] But really, rather than trying to block these, they should work towards smart traffic lights that receive signals from all cars and change according to the most effective traffic patterns possible.

This does exist. Actually there are two systems that I know of -- SCOOT which was developed in the UK and SCATS which was developed in Australia (and which I cannot find a decent link for, because I end up with lots of, er, fetish stuff for results).

I am still learning about it myself for work (I work in a small traffic control center), just for our own future reference. Adaptive traffic control systems are really cool, and basically - though it's a lot more complicated than just this - adapts the signal patterns given the flow of traffic on the road. It's hella expensive to implement though, and seems to be best suited for heavily trafficked urban areas (like London).

As for the preemption device (which is what this gadget is), DragonBoy is right, it turns everything red. So all you really get is a nice fat ticket if you happen to get caught blasting through the intersection.
posted by contessa at 2:49 PM on October 27, 2003


When I lived in Bangkok there was a very good solution to this problem. Despite having installed an automated light control system, the police had manual control of all the major intersections' lights and exercised this ability with abandon.

You can see the results of this marvelous system by visiting the city today.
posted by i blame your mother at 5:37 PM on October 27, 2003


I drive a lot late at night, and the red lights go green right away when I stop at an intersection, without doing any flashing of my brights. They're programmed to go green when someone stops at the intersection late at night (although I'm not really sure how it works). You guys might be experiencing a placebo effect when you flash your brights -- it would have turned green anyway.
posted by zixyer at 6:06 PM on October 27, 2003


So the obvious solution is to put red light cameras on the junctions in question.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 7:28 PM on October 27, 2003


"It's a very interesting ethical dilemma. Here are all these gullible people. Why should we protect them? On the other hand, they are causing a number of crashes."

you could basically say exactly the same things about internet and it's commodity client OS.
posted by quonsar at 8:23 PM on October 27, 2003


SCATS runs on Windows 98!
posted by yonderboy at 12:52 AM on October 28, 2003


zixyer: I can confirm the flashing works on some lights in the UK as well. It's happened too many times to be coincidence or a placebo effect.
posted by salmacis at 3:38 AM on October 28, 2003


It is physically impossible for you to strobe your headlights at the right intervals to trip the strobe sensors at a stop light.

There are sensors under the pavement at stop lights that are tripped when the big metal body of your vehicle passes over them and breaks the circuit. Some intersections use a series of these sensors placed Hundreds of feet from the stop lights to trigger a green when someone is approaching an empty intersection at speed.

Someone find me a snopes link to forever smash this urban legend of the flashing brights changing lights!
posted by Jeremy at 6:53 AM on October 28, 2003


There are two different systems being discussed here.

1) The inductive sensor which has been placed in the street. Obviously headlights have no effect on this sensor.

2) The IR sensor mounted near the light itself. These can be tripped by a flash of brights.

Any particular intersection may have one or both of the systems installed.

Here's a nice link giving brief descriptions of many sensor systems in use. Note sections 1.3 (IR) and 1.10 (inductive).
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 7:28 AM on October 28, 2003


Jeremy, it might be physically impossible for you, but with today's video game experience, it isn't necessarialy so. :-)

Link

The rate of strobe is so fast that it cannot be replicated by human hands."

These emitters must flash 14 times per second in order for the call to be validated. Obviously, no one can flash their headlights that fast.

This begs the question: How fast can one flash their headlights? I type at over 90 WPM (unadjusted for errors). That gives me the ability to hit a button at about 8 times per second. That's not far off. I'm sure there's others who have heavy video game experience that can do it faster than that.

Some people say headlights don't have the IR component. That's wrong unless you are using illegal headlights...

It also begs for me to go out and try it. Which I will... >:-D There's particularly notorious intersection that is ALWAYS red upon approach here, and I do believe it is fitted with an opto-sensor.
posted by shepd at 8:25 AM on October 28, 2003


How fast can one flash their headlights? I type at over 90 WPM (unadjusted for errors). That gives me the ability to hit a button at about 8 times per second. That's not far off.

You can't flash your headlights at 14 pulses per second not because of your reflexes, but because headlights are incandescent bulbs and thus don't turn on and off instantly.
posted by kindall at 9:09 AM on October 28, 2003


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