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Did you know? The first traffic light was installed 101 years ago

Before the hazard perception test, before the theory test, even before the practical driving test, there was the traffic light. Book Theory Test Today takes you on a historical journey. Book Theory Test Today says: “It’s the 101st anniversary of the humble traffic light this year and to commemorate the first installation of this road traffic safety feature, search engine, Google has come up with a doodle illustration that depicts the first electric traffic lights ever installed.” Cursed by impatient motorists worldwide and known to provoke road rage, but a major contributor to road safety, the traffic light’s 101st anniversary is being honoured.

The emergence of the first traffic light

The first traffic light ever installed was positioned outside the Houses of Parliament in London towards the end of the 19th century. They were not electric, in fact, they were gas-operated and police officers had to work them by hand in an effort to control traffic on Bridge Street, Great George Street and Parliament Street. However, due to an explosion in 1869, the first traffic light installation did not last long. The cause of the explosion was down to a leaking gas line passing beneath the traffic light. The police officer operating the lights was seriously injured as a result of the explosion. Over three decades later, far greater success was enjoyed by an American who installed some electronic lights. They focused on - the now worldwide known – system of red and green lights. Former Salt Lake City detective, Lester Wire, was the man behind the revolutionary traffic lights, coming up with the idea in 1912. It wasn’t long afterwards that his lights started popping up across the United States. However, he was not the only American to design a traffic light system. Inventor, Garret Morgan of Ohio, vowed to ‘improve traffic safety’ having witnessed a serious road accident. In 1922, Morgan applied for a patent for a man operated traffic control device that worked using a crank. Yet, despite the patent application, Morgan’s invention failed to reach the prototype stage. Speculation was rife that local authorities were hesitant about investing in Morgan’s design because of the cost implications of hiring an operative to man the system all day. Electric lights were far more appealing from a cost perspective. Before the amber light, bells were added to traffic lights in 1920 for the purpose of warning motorists that lights were about to change. It was another 70 years before the countdown timers were introduced. The timers were fitted to aid pedestrians to judge whether they had enough time to cross a road before lights went green.

What’s the best traffic light ever seen?

Arguably, it’s a design that hit the world’s streets in 1998, created by French sculptor, Pierre Vivant. He came up with the striking ‘Traffic Light Tree’ an eight-metre tall system featuring 75 sets of lights. It has become a tourist hotspot in London. Today’s traffic lights are much more sophisticated systems and tend to feature bike, bus and tram symbols. There also exists traffic lights that are interruptible, which give priority to emergency vehicles using transmitters that transmit radio waves, infrared signals or strobe light signals that are received by a sensor that’s on or in close proximity to traffic lights. However, not all countries are a fan of traffic lights and are still waiting to install their first traffic light. Ethiopia’s capital city, Addis Ababa, for instance, is home to a massive intersection that operates smoothly without a traffic light in sight.

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