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Traffic lights and pedestrian crossings

Traffic lights are a common sight across Britain and across the world, but it hasn’t always been that way. The first ‘traffic lights’ were installed beside parliament in London in 1868. These were designed by railway engineer John Peake Knight and were gas operated red and green lights used to control the flow of horse drawn carriages. Sadly, they malfunctioned very early on, seriously burning a policeman, and traffic lights were not seen again in London until 1929.

Traffic lights and the law

Many people get confused as to the exact law on traffic lights, and end up with 3 points and a £60 fine for their trouble. The problem is with amber lights. Put simply, the law treats an amber light exactly the same as a red one, meaning you should stop. The only exception is if the lights change when you are so near that you could not reasonably stop without either crossing the line or endangering other motorists.

The so called ‘amber gamblers’, who speed up to try and get through an amber light before it turns red, really are taking a gamble. If any part of your vehicle, even a tow bar, is behind the line when the lights change to red, then the camera will trigger and you will be prosecuted.

Many drivers think they are clear because they were over the line when the lights changed, only to find that the back of their car wasn’t. Lights that change as you approach may be frustrating, but not as frustrating as a 3 point penalty and the resulting increase in your car insurance premium.

Pedestrian lights

Pedestrian lights have come a long way since the first Pelican (Pedestrian Light Controlled) crossings began to replace zebra crossings back in 1969.

Today’s Puffin (Pedestrian User Friendly Intelligent Crossing) crossings use infra red detectors to monitor pedestrian progress. This means that quick crossing single people don’t hold up the traffic, while slower, older people get plenty of time to cross. Modern Puffin crossings do not have the flashing amber of Pelican crossings, but use a similar light sequence to traffic lights, and should be treated the same way.

Other pedestrian crossings include Toucan (No acronym, just a place where ‘two can’ cross) for bikes and pedestrians together, and Pegasus crossings with high buttons for horse riders (after Pegasus the winged horse).

Zig-Zag Lines

Most pedestrian crossings will be protected by zig-zag zones clearly marked on the road. It is illegal to park on a zig-zag line and you will get a 3 point penalty and a £60 fine if caught. This is not a parking fine but a criminal offence. It is also illegal to overtake in a zig-zag zone, even if the road is clear and the crossing is not being used. Zig-zag zones can often be found outside schools, hospitals and other areas that need to be kept clear of traffic.

Again, it is better to respect the zone than risk it, even if you are just nipping to the cash machine for a moment.

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