Orange is the New…

5218618B-E3FF-4DD6-8514-CF97668775D6In the case of demarcation of COVID zones in India, Orange is the New Freedom! Lucky enough to fall into this zone, I can now do some things I could not last week. But since my neighbouring zone 5 kms away is Red, there is nothing very exciting I can do. But I suppose it is all in the mind.

But as promised, this blog is not going to be Corona-obsessed. So moving on, it is about traffic lights—where the COVID classification zones in India seem to have had their origin.

Traffic lights were actually invented much before automobiles., to control the movement of horse carriages. (Tongas, camel carts etc. in India sometimes follow traffic lights and sometimes do not. I have never quite figured out if the same rules and fines apply to them as to cars and scooters. But maybe not, for after all, such things come under the Motor Vehicles Act!)

On Dec 10, 1868, the first traffic lights were installed outside the Houses of Parliament in London—red for ‘Stop’, and green for ‘Go’. The idea itself was borrowed from the railways, which had been using lights for its traffic control for quite some time.

The very first traffic lights were gas-fuelled, and were manually controlled by a policeman. But being gas-fuelled, though they prevented road accidents, there were incidences when the traffic lights themselves exploding. It is not known if this led to fatalities, but considering that horse-traffic accidents themselves may not have led to too many fatalities, it may have been a close-run competition.

The early 1900s saw the invention of automobiles and a significant uptick in road traffic, and the need for better systems of traffic management was becoming clear. It was in 1912 that an American policeman Lester Wire, came up with the idea of electric traffic lights, and the first one, based on his design, was installed in Cleveland, Ohio in 1914.

The very first electric traffic lights, like their gas-fuelled predecessors, had only the red and green. Some of them had a buzzer sound in place of the amber light to indicate that the signal was going to change soon.

It was in 1920 that another American policeman William Potts invented the first three-coloured traffic lights and Detroit became the first city to implement them.

But why Red, Green and Orange (or Amber)?

RED: This colour is probably used to symbolize STOP because in many cultures, red symbolizes danger. It makes a lot of sense scientifically also, because Red has the longest wavelength of any colour in the visible spectrum and hence can be seen from a greater distance than any other colour.

GREEN: Originally, in the railways, White was used for the all-clear signal, but train   mistook the light of the moon or stars for the “all clear”. This led to derailments and train collisions. And hence, a change was required from White. It seems that it was decided that now  Green (which till then used for ‘Caution’) would be used for GO. Also, the green wavelength is next to yellow on the visible spectrum, meaning it’s still easier to see than any colour other than red and yellow.

YELLOW/AMBER/ORANGE: When the Green switched over to mean GO, then it was decided that yellow would be used for caution. Also, yellow is very distinct from the other two colours and hence suitable.

Here is wishing all a rapid move to GREEN and SAFETY!



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