Saturday, January 8, 2011

Light traffic

It's been 90 years since the first traffic light was installed in Detroit. As you can see from the photo on the left, not much has changed in the design. This, despite the fact that the most common form of color blindness is the inability to distinguish red from green.

Several advances have been made in vehicular technology since 1920, which helps explain why few people still drive Model T Fords - the most popular cars at the time the traffic light was invented.

So it may be time to start asking why so little has changed. Seat belts and airbags and anti lock brakes all attest to the focus on safety that car manufacturers have today - largely because of regulations imposed on them from safety-conscious governments. Yet, one of the most fundamental safety features that governments have under their direct control, is the design of the traffic lights that you'll see at every major intersection in the developed world.

Fortunately, there are people who have been giving this some thought, such as Thanva Tivawong, from Thailand, with her innovative sand glass design (right). It has several advantages over the conventional design: its pictoral presentation makes it clear for anyone, regardless of their ability to see color; the timing aspect allows drivers the opportunity to get in better sync with traffic flows; and it also provides the possibility of drivers switching off their cars while they wait at the lights, reducing fuel consumption and carbon emissions.

WebUrbanist presents several other fascinating traffic light prototypes here. Tivawong's design was a shortlisted entry in designboom's 2010 design for all competition. Third prize winner was this novel traffic light design by South Korea's Li Ming Hsing:

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