Here Are 27+ Facts About Traffic Lights That You Might Not Know

Akinwalere Olaleye
Nov 03, 2023 By Akinwalere Olaleye
Originally Published on Feb 08, 2022
Read these facts about traffic lights to know more about the installation of the first traffic signal.
Age: 3-18
Read time: 9.2 Min

Traffic rules play a major role in maintaining road safety and road discipline. 

Rules and regulations are the bedrock of an organization or a country, and traffic rules form a similar purpose concerning order on the road. Several parts constitute a set of traffic rules, and one of the major components is traffic lights. 

Traffic lights are used widely across the world and play a crucial role in ensuring a smooth flow of traffic on the roads. Normally, traffic lights are divided into three colors: red, yellow, and green.

Red light means stop, yellow light means to wait, and green light means go. When it comes to metropolitan cities, there are often some areas that experience a higher volume of vehicular traffic compared to others.

In such regions, time-based regular traffic lights can prove to be troublesome as the traffic flow can be quite erratic depending on the time of day. In such regions, sensor-based automatic traffic lights are placed at junctions to ensure a smoother flow of traffic.

These lights are extremely important in ensuring that traffic moves smoothly and doesn't pile up. It also allows for safe crossing times for pedestrians while also solving confusion and chaos at junctions.

Did you know that the first traffic light in the world was deployed in London in the year 1868! Read on for more such interesting facts, including who invented traffic lights, their functions and importance, and some more fun facts.

Who invented traffic lights?

Are you having fun reading our traffic-light facts? Then read on to discover more about their invention.

In 1923, Garrett Morgan patented an electric automatic traffic signal, though this wasn't the first patent for traffic lights, just the best. Morgan's design used a T-shaped pole unit with three positions. Moreover, Morgan was the first African-American to own a car in the Cleveland region and is credited as the inventor of the gas mask.

General Electric (GE) was a significant early traffic-signal manufacturer. In 1923, General Electric bought Garrett Morgan's traffic-signal patent. Morgan didn't invent the first traffic signal but his design attracted their attention.

The earliest known traffic signal dates to London in 1868, well before automobiles made an appearance. The signal was a revolving gas lantern that flashed red for stop and green signal for caution and was hand-operated. The original exploded on January 2, 1869, injuring the police officer operating it.

By 1931, it became a major goal of local governments to increase the quality and also the sensitivity of road-traffic safety. This was necessary to ensure the smooth movement of traffic on important junctions. Along with the hiring of trained traffic police officers, the installation of advanced traffic signals was also important. 

When automobiles became more common, there was a sudden rise in vehicular traffic. There was an immediate need to increase the number of traffic signals that were installed in each city to control traffic movement.

Earlier, there had generally been only one traffic signal for every 1,000 inhabitants but the sudden increase in traffic volume necessitated the installation of more traffic signals.

But, in present times, the situation has changed drastically across the world.

With new vehicles being introduced on roads at a rapid pace, the chances of accidents have increased substantially. As a result, most city governments are opting for electric traffic lights instead of traditional traffic signals or manual management of traffic through a trained police officer.

Electric lights synced with automatic sensors help determine the duration of green signals based on the volume of oncoming traffic at specific times in a day, thereby ensuring better traffic management compared to regular signals.

Why are they important?

If you enjoyed reading about the invention of traffic lights, then read on to find out more about their importance in our everyday lives. The importance of traffic lights is something that can not be overstated: if they had not been invented, there would be a lot of chaos on the roads.

A traffic light also plays an extremely helpful role in maintaining decorum and smooth traffic flow even in the absence of a traffic officer.

Another factor that adds to the importance of traffic lights is the fact that the red-light, yellow-light, green-light system is very easy to understand and most people can use them.

Using the system of red arrow, yellow arrow, green arrow to regulate the traffic is very easy to understand. Even if you go to a country where knowledge of the native language is limited, you can easily understand the functioning of traffic lights, with the help of these common signs.

Sometimes, a stopwatch is also installed along with traffic lights to help pedestrians check the time left for the red light to turn green or vice-versa.

The most important feature of traffic lights is they help a lot in maintaining the perfect flow of traffic and as such have proven to be a boon for both drivers and traffic officers as well.

The first traffic light was installed in London in the year 1868.

Functions Of The Traffic Light

Now we understand their importance, and know something about their history, let's check out the function of a traffic light. Traffic lights basically consist of two types, one with arrows and the other with plain lights.

Arrows are used to indicate the direction of traffic flow. This is usually the case with busier junctions where traffic flows in multiple directions. Normal lights are used at not-so-busy crossings where traffic can flow in only one direction.

There is another type of light that is installed at several places and that is the flashing red light. The flashing red light warns the driver to slow down a little as there might be a crossing or a school or a hospital nearby.

This flashing red light is also installed at dead ends to prevent accidents during rain or foggy conditions.

In many countries, especially developed countries, there are dedicated lights for pedestrian crossings as well. These lights only have red and green signals to let the pedestrians know when it is safe to cross roads.

For the sake of operational ease, a switch or large button is placed along with these lights which the pedestrians can press when they are looking to cross the road.

Whereas in most developing countries, these pedestrian lights are automatically synced with the main traffic signal and allow the crossing of roads accordingly.

As such these lights help with controlling the instances of jaywalking as well. These lights also have sounds, so that those who are deaf or hard of hearing can safely cross the road.

But it is not possible to install traffic lights everywhere. In such cases, zebra crossings are painted on the roads.

These are strips of white and gray or black, usually drawn on both sides of a road. This is regarded as the designated area for pedestrians to cross the road as vehicles must slow down or completely halt while approaching a zebra crossing.

Fun Facts About Traffic Lights

Enjoyed reading facts about traffic lights so far? Well, read on for some lesser-known facts that will ignite further interest in the wonderful invention, the traffic light.

The first traffic light in the world was installed in London in the year 1868. But, sadly, that was damaged due to a gas explosion and, unfortunately, a police officer was badly injured in the accident.

In the city of Asheville, Ohio, you can find one of the oldest traffic signals in the world. It has been in use for 90 years now and is still being used for directing foot traffic. The oldest electric traffic-light system is on display at a museum in Ashville, Ohio.

A very interesting fact is that that was no yellow traffic light until the year 1920. 

Traffic lights have eventually ensured better control over traffic compared to a lone traffic officer. In turn, they have made it easier for motorists to drive safely and avoid accidents effectively.

Traffic lights also help pedestrians by giving them instructions regarding which direction they should go in and also when they should cross the road. This invention has also been helpful in preventing 'road-rage' conflicts and injuries that often take place on roads of developing countries.

Traffic lights help in regulating the heavy flow of traffic for smoother movement on roads. With the help of automated sensors, traffic signals change the time for red lights and green lights to come on according to the oncoming traffic flow. The first traffic light, in London, used a gas-lit signal, but it suffered gas-leak issues.

The first electric traffic light was developed by Lester Wire, in 1912, a police officer in Salt Lake City, Utah. The system invented by Lester Wire was powered by overhead tram lines. Swedish electric traffic lights use white lighting for bus lanes and for trolley signals.

Modern traffic lights have improved visibility and even a countdown timer. Countdown timers give people an estimate of how long to wait. 

The traffic light is basically a traffic control device that has three lights, namely the red light, yellow light, and green light. Red lights indicate motorists must stop, yellow lights indicate you must prepare for a light change, and green lights indicate to go. Some countries use an amber signal instead of a yellow light. 

The LED traffic-light system is now commonly being used across the world as it offers better visibility in all types of conditions.

An emergency vehicle, like a fire engine or ambulance, does not have to wait for red lights to turn green, in order to enable it to rush directly to fires from a fire station, or to save lives in the case of an ambulance.

A police vehicle is also authorized to ignore a signal, without waiting for a red light to turn green, so that they can reach the scene of a crime as soon as possible.

These exemptions only apply to them and not regular automobiles and pedestrians that must make way for these vehicles.

Jumping red signals is considered an offense in all countries and can invite heavy penalties in the form of fines, imprisonment, or pints on your licence. Jumping a signal is dangerous as it can lead to accidents due to oncoming traffic from opposite directions.

In order to sit a driving-licence test in most countries, candidates must answer numerous questions to ensure they understand the rules of the road. Would-be motorists also have to sit driving tests in which they drive instructors around, while the instructors give them a set of driving instructions they need to follow.

In various countries, when there is no traffic light installed at a roundabout, the principle of 'right of way' is applied automatically.

At traffic signals, drivers must switch off the engines of their cars while waiting for a red signal to turn to green. This not only helps save on fuel but also reduces vehicular emissions.

Additional lights are installed at busy intersections or railroad tracks to warn drivers of oncoming traffic in advance to avoid any chances of a train collision.

New York City does not allow a right turn on red lights.

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Written by Akinwalere Olaleye

Bachelor of Arts specializing in English Literature

Akinwalere Olaleye picture

Akinwalere OlaleyeBachelor of Arts specializing in English Literature

As a highly motivated, detail-oriented, and energetic individual, Olaleye's expertise lies in administrative and management operations. With extensive knowledge as an Editor and Communications Analyst, Olaleye excels in editing, writing, and media relations. Her commitment to upholding professional ethics and driving organizational growth sets her apart. She has a bachelor's degree in English Literature from the University of Benin, Edo State. 

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