150 Years of Traffic Lights

Despite their essential function in traffic safety, traffic lights are frequently disregarded. Without them, we would be unable to safely navigate the roads, let alone with the current traffic volume. Given that over 40% of all collisions occur at intersections, it’s clear that without those devoting time and money to developing this road safety technology, things will only worsen.

Traffic Light History

We will examine the often-overlooked history of the traffic light and how a traffic signal contractor has aided in advancing road safety over time.


The first traffic light on the planet was installed on December 10, 1868. It was unveiled at Parliament Square, London. Two mobile signs were mounted to lever-operated pivoting arms. The post was topped with a gas-lit lamp to increase visibility. It was, however, fleeting. A few months later, the traffic light exploded, killing the officer responsible for the signs.


After widespread electricity use, the globe had to wait 46 years for the first dual-colored traffic light powered by this new source to be installed in Cleveland, Ohio. Between red and green, Detroit and New York City introduced yellow in 1920. The current traffic signal was invented and soon gained global acceptance.


In 1923, Paris installed the city’s first electrically powered mechanical traffic light on the Boulevard de Strasbourg and Grands Boulevards. Shortly thereafter, the majority of Europe’s largest cities followed suit. In 1924, Berlin, Milan, 1925, Rome, 1926, London, 1927, Prague, 1928, and Barcelona, 1930. And the system was shipped to Tokyo in 1931.


The first convention on the Unification of Road Signals was signed in Geneva on March 30, 1931. Adopting a uniform set of road signals aimed to improve road traffic safety and increase international road travel. This treaty establishes the majority of the indicators we use today. Traffic signals with three distinct colors (red, yellow, and green) became the standard.


At traffic lights, the use of computerized detection is becoming more prevalent. At intersections, a pressure plate was mounted so that computers could identify when a car was stopped at a red light. As computers became more advanced, they became even more efficient at monitoring traffic and changing lights.


If you recall, back in the day, traffic lights were equipped with a countdown timer to inform pedestrians whether they had enough time to cross the street before the signal changed color.


Connected vehicles can communicate with traffic lights and other vehicles. This can greatly improve intersection speed, timing, and efficiency, possibly by up to 40%, as more vehicles are connected. infrared thermography services are also now being used making traffic lights less prone to breakdown. 

Pedestrian-Specific Lighting

The pedestrian signals arrived in response to the tri-colored traffic lights. They began in various shapes but were always red and green to match the cars. They frequently denoted “Wait” in red and “Walk” in green, regardless of whether the circle, square, or rectangle was circular, square, or rectangular. In 1974, in response to concerns about foreign speakers and the need for worldwide standards, guidelines established the statistics we know today. However, pedestrian signals were initially disregarded due to their prohibitively expensive cost and doubtful utility. They have been installed systematically at the city’s crossings since 1955, at least in Paris.


As global traffic expands, our reliance on traffic lights increases proportionately. Automobiles connected to the Internet of Things will almost probably communicate with traffic signals and other vehicles in the future, allowing traffic to move even more freely as traffic volumes increase.