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The History of Traffic Lights and Their Impact on Auto Insurance

Traffic lights have been around for a long time.

They were around before we even gained access to electricity on a widespread level.

Now, they are advanced machines that people often overlook.

In fact, they play such an integral role in road safety that they are deeply intertwined with traffic violations and auto insurance systems.

They are so heavily rooted in our society that solar-powered traffic lights have been created to combine efficiency with optimal functionality.

Even with traffic lights dangling above most intersections, almost half the automobile crashes happen there.

So imagine how many more accidents could occur without traffic signals.

A Brief Timeline of Traffic Lights

Though the majority of us only recognize traffic lights for what they are now, they started as simple gas-lit lights that were controlled manually.

The history of traffic signals is not only interesting, but significant to the role that auto insurance plays in all of our lives today.

1865 – First Traffic Light Created

On December 10, 1868, the first traffic light was installed outside the Houses of Parliament in London. The major difference between current traffic signals and this one is that it was gas lit and not automatic. 

They were manually controlled by police officers, and it was originally recommended by J. P. Knight, a British railway engineer, to manage the traffic of horse carriages. 

During the night, police officers would manually switch between red and green gas-lit lights. However, over time, it became a safety hazard to police officers because the lights would explode. 

1912 – 1914 – Traffic Increases, Control Devices Installed

In Paris, a traffic control device was placed on top of a tower at the Grands Boulevards and Rue Montmartre. The device featured a revolving four-sided metal box on a glass case that displayed “Stop” in the color red and “Go” in white.

On August 5, 1914, the first electric traffic light was installed at the corner of 105th and Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio. It was inspired by an increase in automobile traffic.

1920 – 1930 – First Four-Way and Three-Way Traffic Lights

In 1920, a Detroit police officer named William Potts invented the first four and three-way colored traffic light and introduced yellow lights.

Garrett Morgan, an African American inventor, created and patented an automated traffic signal system in 1923. He created the electric traffic signal after being a bystander to a horrible accident. The General Electric Company paid him $40,000 for the invention.

In 1928, Charles Adler Jr. created an actuated traffic light that was initiated by drivers honking their horns when at a red light. In 1929, Adler invented the first pedestrian-actuated signal. People would push a button to signal automobiles of their presence.

According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHA), “during the 1930s, city officials were trying to figure out how to reduce the death and injury toll among pedestrians [and] one method was to add a light to the traffic lights to show the walk cycle. When it was on, all traffic approaching the intersection stopped so pedestrians could cross the streets in all directions, including diagonally.”

1950 – 1990 – Computerized Traffic Lights Invented

During the 1950s computerized detection was used in traffic lights, in the 1960s monitoring and changing lights grew more efficient, and in the 1990s a countdown timer was included in traffic lights.

The countdown timer was introduced to let drivers and pedestrians know if they have enough time to cross the road before the light switch.

2000s – Now – Advanced Computers and Solar Power Technology

Artificial intelligence-driven traffic lights grew more popular. Technically advanced and automated traffic signals become the standard, and now camera and traffic violation monitoring systems have become widespread.

How Traffic Signals Work With Auto Insurance

The history of auto insurance dates back to 1751, and like traffic signals, it was intended to be used as a tool to protect drivers and pedestrians.

Running a red light or deciding to not stop at a traffic signal can lead to a dangerous car accident, injuring or killing innocent bystanders. 

Traffic signals and auto insurance are both preventive measures for automobile accidents. The consequence of not heeding these measures is receiving a traffic violation and a spike in your auto insurance rate.

An auto insurance rate increase can severely hurt someone financially, and a traffic violation for running a red light can be considered as a minor “failure to stop” violation or a more severe offense requiring pricy penalties, license suspension, or jail time.

Without traffic signals, traffic violations would be minimal and auto insurance providers would not have as many reasons to raise insurance premium rates.

The Most Expensive Fines for Running a Stop Sign or Red Light

Some people get away with running a red light but others are not as lucky and end up getting caught by a police officer. Nowadays, there are red-light cameras at many traffic signals to catch people who run a red light or violate other traffic laws at an intersection.

Despite first amendment audits giving citizens the ability to record in public places as a way to police the police and ensure they are doing their job properly. Some states feel cameras at red lights are not good for policing drivers.

Since a red light camera is not a person that witnessed the offense, it can be difficult to identify certain traffic violations as a criminal offense. The ticket is issued to the owner of the vehicle without solid proof the owner was the person driving the car at the time of the violation.

This leads to reasonable doubt when attempting to find someone guilty of a traffic offense.

Due to this uncertainty, around eight states completely prohibit the use of traffic lights in the United States, but the remaining either permit them all together, permit them in certain areas (like school and work zones), permit them in cities with local ordinances, or have no laws on the use of them at all.

These cameras work by taking a photo or video of the car that is violating traffic laws or failing to stop at a red light. Law enforcement can find the violator by looking up the license plate number and searching who the car is registered to.

Violators are given their citations through the mail if caught by a red-light camera or in person if stopped by law enforcement.

Some of the most expensive fines for running a red light or stop sign throughout the United States are:

Aside from being used to deter individuals from running a stop sign or red light, red-light cameras can also be used to stand against texting and driving.

In 2001, other states followed behind Arizona and Florida with implementing certain restrictions against using cell phones and other technological devices while driving. 

As more states banned or discouraged texting and driving, red-light cameras have gradually been used as another tool to help police officers when enforcing distracted driving laws.

How to Handle Auto Insurance Increases After Traffic Signal Violations

Since car insurance became mandatory, it has been close to impossible to operate an automobile without it. Doing so can get you a greater fine than ignoring traffic lights. 

With it being mandatory, you should avoid violating traffic laws and signals to prevent an auto insurance rate increase altogether. 

However, if you are in a situation where your premium increases, you can lower it by fighting the ticket, waiting for the traffic violation to disappear from your record, or by taking a defensive driving course. 

As a last resort, you can lower your coverage amount or compare car insurance coverage for a new insurance policy with a different company to get a lower premium rate.

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