As we drive the streets and highways, we are faced with a multitude of traffic control equipment and traffic safety equipment that contribute to our safer travels. They have become part of the landscape for us, both inside and outside of our cars and we rarely give them much thought.
These devices did not come about overnight, nor did they come about without challenges. They have been developed throughout the over 100 year history of the automobile, and many are incarnations of other devices. We thought it would be interesting to take a quick look at the history of some of these devices.
Traffic Lights: The first traffic control equipment was used in London in 1868. Manually controlled traffic lights were installed in Cleveland in 1914 using electric lights that lit up the words “Stop” and “Move”. This first four-way traffic light was hung in Detroit in 1920 and introduced the first yellow light. The first yellow light runner was probably not far behind.
Don’t Walk/Walk Signals: In the early 1930s pedestrians were being hit at intersections by the ever increasing number of vehicles. Early versions on this device stopped traffic in all directions, and pedestrians had a limited time to cross the roads, including crossing diagonally. The less chaotic system used today was first installed in New York in 1952. Today, modern LED crossing devices offer a “countdown” for pedestrians until the traffic light will change.
Railroad Crossing Signals: The first railroad signals were invented and nicknamed wigwags. These wigwags were used for almost 60 years until being replaced. Today, the familiar crossbuck “Railroad – Crossing” sings are still used at crossings, and are maintained by the railroads.
Seatbelts: Lap belts were first offered as a traffic safety equipment option in American cars in 1949 by Nash. Saab was the first manufacturer to offer them as standard gear in 1958. It became standard in all vehicles. Today’s three-point lap and shoulder belts were actually patented in the 1950s but weren’t standard equipment until much later. The first compulsory seatbelt law was enacted in 1970 in Australia. Ironically, the “Live Free or Die” State of New Hampshire remains the only U.S. State without a mandatory seat belt law.
Today, we now have devices that monitor traffic with devices implanted in pavement, traffic cams are everywhere, and even solar power provides electricity for signage on our roadways. Like in most areas of our life, technology is rapidly affecting driving and driving safety.