Here’s Why Some NJ Traffic Lights Have ‘Bells’ on Them
The next time you're driving around the great Garden State and you hit a red light, look up.
As everything around us evolves and becomes more technologically advanced, traffic lights are, too.
Although, you might not think that's true when you sit at a red light for what seems like an eternity.
As you are looking up, you might notice what look like bells hanging high above some red lights -- what exactly do they do?
First, a very brief history lesson.
Back in the day, traffic lights were all based on time -- or timers, to be more precise.
Regardless of the time of day or the amount of traffic, green lights and red lights were all a predetermined length. That means at 3 AM, you would sit for a red light when there was no traffic, and at 3 PM, not enough traffic would get through an intersection because those timers never changed. Some old signals in some older cities are still this way (Atlantic Avenue in Atlantic City, we're lookin' at you).
Eventually, wires were buried in roads that detected traffic. When cars stopped on these wires, it told the signal there were vehicles waiting and it made the light change. Simple enough -- at least until those wires broke and the road had to be dug up and repaved to fix them.
Today, those wires have been replaced with this common sight -- cameras.
Contrary to popular belief, these are not "red light cameras," but they are cameras at red lights. They do not record video nor will they send you a ticket in the mail. These cameras detect traffic and help control the flow of an intersection based on what they see. If they "see" a car, the light will change. When they don't see any more vehicles, the light changes back. And when they break, you just install a new camera instead of having to dig up the whole road.
Oh, and I hate to tell you, but urban legend has it that if you flash your high beams at these things, it'll make the light change. It doesn't.
But what about these bell things?
These bell-looking things are cameras, too, and they're pretty cool. They're actually cameras that point downward that can see a full 360 degrees (i.e. the entire intersection with just one camera). And they do all kinds of stuff -- some traffic engineers can watch them to make sure signals are working or timed properly, some can look for strobe lights from ambulances and make the light change, etc.
And like before, they are not red light cameras -- you won't get a ticket in the mail.