Is there a secret code to control traffic lights?

By Paul Michael on 15 February 2007 (Updated 19 February 2007) 19 comments

Walk sign

I'm a firm believer that time is money. It really is. The more time you save on life's humdrum chores, the more time you can devote to making money. Or saving it. So when I found out a way to make the traffic stop for me, I was quite surprised. And skeptical, as always.

I'm not sure how many times you've been stuck at the side of the road waiting for the little green man to make an appearance, but for me it's a regular occurance. Usually I bide my time. But if I'm in a hurry, do I risk the archaic lawbreaking method of jay-walking? Or do I find a way around it? Usually, I just stand like a statue for 5 minutes in the hope that one day, one day, the little green fella will get off his bum and come guide me across the road.

Then I discovered a video that supposedly shows you how to turn that green man on whenever you want to. Really. Using a combination of clicks you can apparently turn the lights to your favor and cross the road as you pease. No wait. No nothing. And so, being someone who loves saving anything, especially time, I thought I'd give it a try.

The result? It was about as effective as mind-control. Not only did the lights not change, they probably took a tad longer to change. But I began to wonder, is this some huge April fools joke being played a few months early? Or does it work...sometimes...depending on where you are? So, here's the video. If you want to try it, go ahead. If you find out it's actually morse code for "I'm an idiot" then I can at least say I warned you in advance. Either way it's nice to think, just for a second, that there are secret ways out there to control our surroundings. Call me a dreamer.

 


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Will Chen's picture

Back in high school one of my friends told me that you can change the traffic light by flicking your highbeam light really fast.  This supposedly tricks the traffic light into thinking that you are an ambulance.  I don't know if this is true, but I sure enjoy doing it (in non-residential area with no cars around).

Paul Michael's picture

That one's an urban legend Will. Always check snopes.com for anything like that.

http://www.snopes.com/autos/law/strobe.asp 

Guest's picture
Severian

The high-beam trick used to work just fine in my home town, and in the town where I went to college.

The trick was to A) note that the light in question had an electric eye atop it (usually, crosstown routes favored by emergency vehicles did have it)
...and B) you had to flicker your high beams at EXACTLY the same rate at which a police car/fire truck's bubble lights alternated.

It doesn't work anymore, where I live. But it used to. Perhaps it's because the high-powered, ultra-bright strobe lights that are common now, are far brighter than car headlights? Might one be able to trigger the sensor with off-road lights? Hell, I don't know.

It's not just an urban myth, though; I used to do it; and my friend Jim got a HUGE ticket from a very angry cop who'd seen Jim trip a green light in his favor using the technique described above.

Guest's picture
Know Better

Sorry Severain but there is just NO WAY flicking your lights ever made the lights change. My guess it was wishfull thinking by a teen with nothing better to do in a small town where the lights "gotta change sometime" Read the facts at www.mirt.com . The strobes used by emergency personell to "trip" the lights operate " high priority" at 14 hertz. Some mass transit lines use "low priority" at 10 hertz which actually "hold" an already green light. It is IMPOSSIBLE to make headlights flash at that rate. cant be done. It is and will always remain a myth. Sorry buddy.

Will Chen's picture

Can I pretend I didn't read your comment?  I really enjoy flicking those lights.

Guest's picture

It occurred to me that it's probably not legal to trick traffic lights to work in your favor. Just a hunch, though. :-)

Paul Michael's picture

This was all just a fun conversation starter. But on a serious note, there is actually a device out there that can change the lights in your favor. I've heard it's popular with pizza delivery folks and couriers. The police are trying to crack down on them, but right now using one is just a $50 fine. Hardly a lot to make you stop and think about the potential accidents you could cause.

Tannaz Sassooni's picture

I remember hearing that the entire fleet of MetroRapid buses here in LA have this light-greening technology built in. If I recall correctly, it doesn't turn a red light green, but it will hold a green light for a few extra seconds when a bus is approaching. So, you could always just follow the MetroRapid buses...but then you'd be stuck behind a bus.

Guest's picture
Anonymous

There is a device called a MIRT. This is used by police/ambulances to change the lights in most cities. It works by sending a special pulse light towards the sensor. If you're not a cop (or emergency worker) they're highly illigial to own... but... if you still want one, you can build it yourself (search for "dirty MIRT" on google) or buy one (search for MIRT). Have fun...

Guest's picture
Tracy B.

...waiting for the light or doing all that fakaktah clicking?

Guest's picture
Guest

Actually there is a 100% way to always have the green man. Choose a diagonal path to your destination and one of the lights will always be in your favour.

webmaster's picture
webmaster

So I'm NOT crazy. Thanks Severian!

Andrea Karim's picture

So, the other day, I was at my local coffee haunt when a cop car that had made a stop in for a cup of joe pulled out of the parking space with lights flashing. And I'm thinking, "Wow, they got a call." I watch to see how they are going to handle this - pulling out of a tight driveway onto a busy street. People are staring. I'm looking forward the rush that I feel from screaming wheels and screeching siren.

The siren starts. The cop pulls out and makes and awkward left turn onto the street. Cars everywhere are pulling over and getting out of the way. The cop car drives abotu 20 yards. Turns off the siren. Turns off the lights. Drives away normally.

If cops can use a siren and lights to pull out of a driveway because they don't want to make a left like the rest of us, I feel like we should be able to trigger lights any damn way we please.

The high beam-flashing thing used to work in my town too. But because of racing, they've actually changed the lights to operate on some new kind of algorithm, in which the the light never changes in your favor, but rather changes against you. So if you are driving down the street late and night and there's a grenn light ahead, it will turn red as you approach. AND IT WON'T TURN GREEN AGAIN UNTIL ANOTHER CAR APPROACHES THE INTERSECTION FROM ANOTHER DIRECTION. Talk about a waste of time and money.

Guest's picture
Retired PD

Hello Andrea, I'm not trying to make an excuse for bad conduct if that's what it was but having been there I can tell you there may have been more to it than you saw or knew. From your vantage point it looked like a cop using his lights and/or siren to make an illegal turn. Perhaps. No one knows but him/her. Or it could have been he/she DID get a high priority call and then moments later was recalled. I cant tell you how many times I've been racing to a scene dodging cars, light and siren going too be recalled. At that point it all looks exactly like what you saw. It's an everyday situation in polce work and the officer doesnt have the liberty to come back to the coffee shop to explain what happen to curious onlookers. Next time your talking with an officer ask him how often that situation has happened to him/her. Hope this helps. Every day above Ground is a great day!

Guest's picture
Falcon

When I delivered pizzas late at night I would flash the light with my million candle power q-beam. The lights always changed in my favor. I only did it late as there was less traffic and I could spot cops easier. I worked during the famous 30 minutes or less or $3 off the pizza craze. (guess who I worked for?) I never got caught, though by pure luck. I would also tell my boss, if it was a bad night on tips, that I delevered pizzas late even if they were 21 to 29 minute delevery times, so I could keep the $3. (Ya, I know, very dishonest). You just had to know the sy7stem and not get greedy. (Unfotunatly I am to honest for my own good now)

Guest's picture
Guest

It's not Morse Code for "I'm an idiot," but does happen to spell out "I M EMS" in Morse. "I am Emergency Medical Services (EMS)"? Interesting.

Guest's picture
MidiMagic

It is against federal law to use a device to change a traffic light, unless you are a driving an emergency vehicle.

But there are some tricks to make sure you get the light:

1. Don't creep. The sensors at the stop line work on detecting position, not motion. If you creep up beyond the stop line, you LEAVE the detection area, and the signal thinks you turned on red.

2. Stop with your front bumper just short of the stop line. This locates you in the optimum position for detection.

3. The sensors on the approach with the red work like pushing the elevator button. Once a single actuation is recorded, that is enough to eventually bring the green signal.

4. The sensors are most active on the approach with the green signal. They look for an absence of traffic. When cars are no longer passing over the sensor, the signal will change to yellow.

5. Some left turn signals are set to wait until three cars or a long truck are in line before activating.

Guest's picture
DTO

Hey there are bunch of crazy laws. Such as ambulances can be pulled over and given speeding tickets even in emergencies. But from I found cops do often abuse their powers and toys. In fact peace officers the lovely trusted public servants they are can only break the law in an emergency. According to our laws put in place before we have now came so close to a police state says citizens can do a citizens arrest on a peace officer. Don't try it most likely you will be tased to death or shot in the back with hand restraints on like in the Oakland BART shooting. One thing I was thinking about if you can actually change the street light. Sense every street light is sequenced through out the entire city won't prematurely changing one disrupt the pattern. Most likely it will only effect that intersection otherwise I;m sure it would create chaos. Oh and in a peace officers defense most of them are pure philistines making it hard to blame them for being law breakers that have bad days just like us. I mean hay we are all humans right? We all make mistakes difference peace officers get away with it we don't.

Guest's picture
Trygve

I always flash my headlight at night and it works! You have to start flashing as soon as possible because it takes at LEAST 5 secs for a large intersection light to change. But smaller ones (for pedestrians) change in 1-2 seconds. This is because they by default give red light both ways at night, and thus can change faster. I have done this for the last 10 years, and I know that cabdrivers do it all the time.

This works in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and Hungary. And possibly other European countries.

I fair warning though: Cops will pull you over is they see you doing this. And thus you should NEVER do it if there is any other traffic around.