Can Police Cars & Ambulances Change Traffic Lights? (Solved)

Most vehicles on the road are regular vehicles belonging mostly to private persons and companies. However, we also have special vehicles like cop cars, ambulances and fire trucks and these vehicles serve the public.

Besides being called “special,” another thing such vehicles have in common is that they respond to emergencies. Every so often, people who spend time on the roads every day encounter one of these special vehicles moving rather fast.

Besides putting the acceleration system in the vehicles to work, the drivers also take some discretionary measures to clear traffic.

There have been questions whether such measures include changing traffic lights and if they even have the authority to do that. This article hopes to answer the question.

Here’s the Short Answer to Whether Police Cars and Ambulances Can Change Traffic Lights:

In many jurisdictions in the United States, the police and ambulances have access to some special stoplights. These strobe lights, when triggered, can change the lights to green, thereby allowing emergency vehicles passage. These measures are only permissible during emergencies.

Can Police Cars Change Traffic Lights?

In some cities and states, the police can change traffic lights when they need other cars to move out of the way during emergencies. They do this by activating the infrared sensors in the strobe lights using the pre-emption transmitter.

However, this change may only be exercised during absolute traffic emergencies. In addition, it’s a federal offense to use this technology without authorization.

In some other cities where this technology is not available, the alternative is the traffic control center. During such emergencies, the police can swiftly reach out to the control center for a quick change in the lights.

Can Ambulances and Fire Trucks Change Traffic Lights?

Ambulances and fire trucks are almost always deployed in cases of serious fire and health emergencies. What then happens if the traffic lights turn red?

Well, like we mentioned before, emergency vehicles in some places have systems with strobe lights that can trigger these changes.

Most fire departments across the country have trucks with this technology because of the frequency and seriousness of fire emergencies. This is also true for ambulance units in different cities and states.

Related: Can Unmarked Police Cars Pull You Over? (Solved)

Is There a Remote to Control Traffic Lights?

In some places, there are technology systems with remotes to control traffic lights. While most modern traffic lights operate on their own, some still need frequent human intervention of some sort by way of remote control.

Remote-controlled traffic lights are very popular in India and some other counties in Asia and Africa.

Related: Are Police Cars Always Marked? (Rules Per State & With Examples!)

Can You Flash Your Headlights to Change Traffic Lights?

Flashing one’s headlights to change the traffic lights and avoid traffic is mostly a myth. If that has ever happened before, it’s likely a result of the traffic lights malfunction.

Simply put, flashing your headlights will never change traffic lights because your flashlights do not have the requisite infrared technology.

Generally, traffic lights only respond in that manner to infrared technology and strobe lights on emergency vehicles.

Also, if you are worried about the legality of flashing your headlights in the United States, you don’t need to. Court decisions over the years have affirmed that flashing headlights is very well protected under the First Amendment.

On the road, flashing your headlights will be taken to mean you intend to overtake the car in front of you. It could also be used to mean:

  • That you acknowledge the gestures, actions, or mere presence of other drivers near you.
  • That you are letting go of the right of way.
  • That you are saying thanks to someone who helped you avoid police trouble.
  • That you are warning other drivers of possible danger

Flashing headlights alongside honking can also help get a deer or other animals out of your way. What it won’t do, however, is change traffic lights no matter how hard you try.

If you are looking to sidestep this, there are devices you can install to manipulate the traffic lights. These devices are known as mobile infrared transmitters (MITS).

However, the cost of that is a federal prison sentence, which, in our opinion, isn’t worth the risk, but that’s left for you to decide.

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