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Reader: Celebrating traffic lights

2015-08-12 09:19

Juan Loubser

CRITICAL FOR ROAD SAFETY: Wheels24 reader Juan celebrates the 101st anniversary of the first electric traffic light! Image: Fin24 / Duncan Alfreds

'We beg them, we curse them, we feel sorry for them,' writes Wheels24 reader JUAN who celebrates the 101st anniversary of the first electric traffic light!

We love to complain about things, and one thing we love to complain about is traffic and how many chicken brained in-breds rush past a red light, forcing you to wait another cycle, adding a good few minutes to your trip.

We love complaining about congestion when a traffic light does not work due to load-shedding or a general power outage and we almost feel sorry for these yellow-piped three-eyed robots when someone decides to uproot them using their car.

I would dare to go as far as saying some of us actually talk to them, we beg them not to change their lights, or curse when there are no oncoming vehicles and the light stays red, almost out of spite.


It is a symbol of order and on August 5 2015, robots around the world celebrated their birthday. It was on that day in 1914 the first electric traffic light* was put into place at the corner of Euclid Avenue and East 105th Street in Ohio, USA, five years after a central dividing line on the road.

There have been attempts at this before when the need for navigating and controlling traffic arose, including a variant where an operator would control these light manually, and the first system used in London in 1868, where two Semaphore arms would direct traffic by signaling horizontally to stop traffic, and at 45o to signal caution.

This design and concept was mentioned in the August 1914 edition of the Cleveland Automobile club, saying: "This system is, perhaps, destined to revolutionize the handling of traffic in congested city streets and should be seriously considered by traffic committees for general adoption."

If they only knew how dependent we are on this device.


As much as we have a love-hate relationship with these lights, the true evil began in the 1960s, where a Dutch company who proudly called themselves Gasto, decided to allow these just, regulators of traffic lights to be tattle-tails. They invented the red light camera in 1965, and even gave it a name, the Gatsometer BV.

This system was first used in Israel in 1969 as a means of traffic enforcements, and only got some major attention from the USA in the 80’s, it is also about the same time that an early bird manufactures called Poltech international started making them for a variety of countries, including South Africa.

* On Dec 9 1868, the first, non-electric, gas-lit traffic lights were installed outside the Houses of Parliament in London, England.

- Jonnie On Cars

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