A Great Innovation: A Look Back at the Evolution of the Traffic Lights

A Great Innovation A Look Back at the Evolution of the Traffic Lights

Traffic lights are overly useful devices that help in controlling the flow of traffic, helping lessen the chances of car crashes in intersections. While the design of the device hasn’t changed much for the past few years, what makes these so effective and what is the story behind it’s creation and development? To give you answers, here is a brief history about traffic lights.

Early Traffic Control Devices


The first-ever traffic control device was developed in the United Kingdom. Back in the late 1860s, a traffic control device was used near the British House of Parliament, particularly in the George and Bridge Streets intersection. This device was manually operated by a police officer. This signaling device was 22 feet high with a gas light in it. It had arms that tell horse-drawn carriage drivers to “stop” or proceed with “caution”. At night, it had a red light that orders drivers to “stop”, and a green light that orders drivers to proceed with “caution”.

Traffic Signaling Devices in the US


In the United States, the same traffic signals were used in the first two decades of the 20th century. Just like in London, it had the words “stop” and “go” that were written in white on a green background. The lights had green and red lenses that were illuminated by kerosene lamps at night. The arms of these semaphore traffic signals were eight feet above the ground and are controlled by a traffic officer who blows his or her whistle before changing the commands on the signal.

The Birth of the Traffic Towers


In 1912, a new traffic control device was placed on top of a tower in Paris at the Rue Montmartre and Grande Boulevard. This device is manned by a policewoman who operates a revolving four-sided metal box on top of a glass showcase where the words “stop” (painted in red) and “go” (painted in white) were placed.

The Three-colored Traffic Device


In the City of Detroit, the first three-colored traffic light was built in 1920. This was placed in the intersection of Michigan and Woodward Avenues. Police officer William Potts of Detroit thought about this concept. Potts was concerned on how police officers situated at four different light signals could not change their lights simultaneously. Thus, a third light, colored amber, was used. This is the same color used on the railroad. A timer was also placed with the light to coordinate a four-way set of lights.

Computer-controlled Traffic Lights


In the advent of computing in the 1950s, computers were then used to control traffic lights. Computerized detection helps significantly in efficiently controlling the lights, paving for better traffic control. Lately, traffic lights come with timer displays that help drivers anticipate the changing of the lights, making them speed up or slow down, depending on what the situation needs helping further avert accidents and promoting defensive driving.

Truly, since the first traffic devices were used in the 1860s, traffic signal devices are being made throughout the years. These often overlooked safety systems help improve the traffic situation and avoid motor vehicle accidents and make our roads safer.