A new traffic safety device - the first set of permanent traffic lights in the Far North - has officially flashed to stop traffic for the first time.

The Far North region's first set of permanent traffic signals were switched on in Paihia yesterday by the NZ Transport Agency.

The lights are not designed to control a complicated intersection but to manage the flow of people and traffic at a busy pedestrian crossing.

NZTA said the responsive traffic lights at the pedestrian crossing on Paihia's waterfront are designed to provide a better balance between pedestrian safety and traffic moving through the town centre.

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The transport agency's system design manager, Brett Gliddon, said the upgrade to the crossing on State Highway 11 is in response to the growing number of tourists visiting Paihia.

"The biggest change for people to get used to is that there's no green man to tell you to cross. Instead it's designed to encourage pedestrians to cross unless the red signal tells them not to," Mr Gliddon said.

"We will monitor the area closely over the coming few weeks to make sure it's working well and we hope all road users will be patient while everyone gets used to the new system.

"The signals use detectors to measure pedestrian movements and help people cross the road safely. It responds to the pace of the person crossing to extend the crossing time if it's needed or cancels the pedestrian phase if someone decides not to cross.

"This improves safety for pedestrians and removes frustrations for motorists because it means traffic isn't waiting for periods when there's no one crossing."

In summer and on cruise ship days so many people use the crossing it can be impossible for cars to get through, leading to driver frustration and queues of traffic. There have also been instances of cars ignoring the crossing and putting pedestrians in danger.

Far Northerners have long enjoyed boasting they live in a district without traffic lights - but that's now over.