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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What is the Smaller Light on the Horizontal Pole on the New Optic Traffic Lights?

“I’ve noticed that on the new style of optic traffic lights in town there is also a smaller light on the horizontal pole.  It is encased in wire.  Do you know what it is called and why is it there?” The Newton Falls Public Library staff had also noticed the bulb about which our patron was asking and like him had no idea.

These are very new lights, so we began our search online using the terms “traffic light components.”  The website,, had interesting information about how traffic light control systems work. Others had the field components of traffic systems, but not the information wanted by our patron.

We did find the website,  The company, Traffic Parts, Inc., supplies traffic control equipment. Having been unsuccessful in our search so far, we emailed the company to ask them if they knew the name and purpose of this smaller light. Danny Miller, Regional Sales Manager, contacted us back with an answer, but also asked for a photograph to make sure he was giving us the correct information.  Our patron was so curious, he was more than happy to take one to attach to the responding email. It is “a confirmation light. This light is used to indicate that the signal is red. With this light, police enforcement can tell if someone is running a red light even if they cannot see the face of the signal to see that it is red.” Mr. Miller also passed along some additional information that he felt our patrons would be interested in knowing: “The cameras that are on the horizontal arm that point down at the vehicles (usually they are mounted on a pipe that extends 2 to 3 feet above the arm) are there to tell the traffic controller that there is a vehicle present and it needs to give that side of the intersection a green light. The other thing that might be mounted on the arm is a dome type camera like the ones you might see at a department store. These cameras are for the traffic control centers to monitor traffic.”

An interesting bit of trivia about traffic lights can be found in World of Invention: History’s Most Significant Inventions and the People Behind Them.  Garrett Augustus Morgan of Cleveland, Ohio developed “the automatic three-stage electric traffic light . . . This was the precursor to the red, yellow and green lights in use today. Morgan patented his traffic light in 1923, and then sold the rights to General Electric for $40,000” [p.535]. How Ohio Helped Invent the World: From the Airplane to the Yo-Yo by Curt Dalton states on page 58, that Morgan also invented an earlier signal that was “the first electrical traffic light ever built to control conflicting streams of traffic.”  It was erected on August 5, 1914 at Euclid Avenue and 105th Street in Cleveland. 


The City of Newton Falls Electric Department requested that we clarify the information in the article about the new traffic lights.  When Mr. Miller of Traffic Parts, Inc. spoke about cameras, it wasn’t meant to imply that there were cameras monitoring the traffic in Newton Falls. He thought our patrons would be interested in the many uses of the horizontal bar.

In Newton Falls and the surrounding communities, the additional items on the horizontal bars are used for emergency traffic control.  They pick up information, from the GPS in emergency and police vehicles, that there is a situation needing other traffic to be stopped. When this occurs, the traffic control system is informed to turn all the lights to red, with the exception of lights in the direction emergency vehicles are traveling. The confirmation light informs the drivers of the emergency vehicles that the information has been received, and the lights have changed to ensure that they can safely travel through the intersection.

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