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  • Anvi Khandelwal


Some towns have one. Some have thousands. They give us silent commands that we follow to ensure safety of ourselves and other people. Guess what it is? Traffic lights. Nowadays, red, yellow, and green lights are part of our daily lives. However, 150 years ago, that wasn’t the case.

Before traffic lights were invented, men were given the task of directing vehicles in their proper directions. The first non-electric gas-lit traffic lights were set up outside the Houses of Parliament in London in December 1689. The design combined three semaphore arms with red and green gas lamps for night-time use, on a pillar, operated by an officer. Using a lever at the base of the gas lantern, a traffic policeman manually turned it on so that the proper light was directed at the traffic. However, it didn't last long and bursted in 1869 due to a gas leak.

Same types of semaphore were being used all around the USA in the first two decades of the 20th century. In 1912, Lester Wire invented the first electric traffic light which had two colors—green and red—as well as a buzzer to alert the user when the colours changed. However, people were concerned that the officers would not be able to change the signals at the same time. Therefore, automated traffic lights were invented.

The tower and semaphores were both abandoned by 1930. Towers were too tall and impeded traffic; semaphores were too small and cars could not see them at night.

Then, came the invention of computers, which altered how traffic signals could be controlled. At intersections, a pressure plate was installed so that computers would be alerted when a vehicle was waiting at a red light. In the 1990s, traffic light countdown timers were added in certain nations.

Traffic lights have advanced significantly. Our lives have been significantly impacted by these three coloured lights. Without it, someone would have missed their meeting or would not have been able to travel as safely. Maybe the next time you see the traffic lights, just remember to be thankful for how much they have benefited us.

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