Did you ever wonder why traffic lights use red, yellow and green colours? It has nothing to do with religion. Rastafari did not influence our traffic system. Let’s find out what did!

The Story of the Traffic Lights

By the 1830s, the rapid construction of railroads brought the need for traffic lights. When engineers came up with the idea of a tricolour light system, some colours had a different meaning. Although red still meant stop, green didn’t say go. Instead, it signifies caution. There was no yellow light but white meant to go.

Because it’s easy to see the red light at a greater distance than any other colour in the spectrum, people used to signal danger. They chose green because they can distinguish it easily from red. This system worked quite well until the conductors began to have problems with the white “go” signal.

An accident took place causing one train to hit another train. A red lens from one of those traffic lights fell exposing a white light instead. The train conductor took the signal by mistake. He thought it was a stop signal.

When Accidents Happen

When these accidents started building up, the engineers decided to modify the system. They used yellow for caution because it is the second most visible colour of the spectrum. Interestingly, yellow was also chosen as a stop signal because red was difficult to see in low light, but that didn’t last long and red was used as a stop signal. Although school buses and warning signs still use yellow.

Red, yellow and green have become the universal colours of all traffic lights. They are made visible in all types of weather. They don’t just keep order on railroads but all busy roads in the world today. It’s a pretty useful invention.


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