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Less Street Lighting is Not a Dim Idea

31 July 2015 | Updated 01 January 1970

Led by researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in partnership with UCL, a study suggests that local authorities can ‘safely’ reduce street lighting at night, saving energy costs and reducing carbon emissions.

“An estimated £300 million is spent every year on street lights in the UK,” stated Dr Phil Edwards, Lead Investigator, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. “At a time when local authorities need to make spending cuts, our findings show that by carefully assessing risks, street lighting can be reduced without an increase in car crashes and crime.”

Over14 years, researchers analysed data from 62 local authorities across England and Wales that had implemented a range of reduced street light strategies, including switching lights off permanently, reducing the number of hours that lamps are switched on at night, dimming lights, and replacing traditional orange lamps with energy efficient white light LED lamps.

To assess road safety, the researchers looked at all roads in participating authorities, examining what type of street lighting was used and the number of traffic collisions that happened at night relative to the day during 2000-13. The report has concluded that there was ‘no evidence’ of an association between reduced street lighting and night-time collisions across England and Wales.

To assess crime, researchers looked at data from 2010-13 to analyse how many crimes took place in an area and what types of street lighting were used there. They focused on offences more likely to occur at night, including burglary, theft of or from a vehicle, robbery, violence and sexual assault. Overall, the report found there was no evidence of an association between reduced street lighting and increased crime across England and Wales.


Carefully Planned Reductions

The researchers have warned, however, that street light reductions need to be carefully planned by local authorities. In an accompanying study published in Health & Place, researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine conducted interviews and surveys with 520 people and analysed data from eight local authorities in England and Wales with different street light strategies to assess public views.

Although reduced lighting had gone largely unnoticed in many areas and had little reported impact on safety or mobility, there were some strong concerns where lights had been switched off. Street light at night was found to be important to many urban and suburban residents and some felt less safe in the dark. Switching off lights was also perceived as representing neglect of an area by the local authority that was removing a ‘public good’.


Challenge to conclusions

The report has not gone unchallenged and the researchers admit that their findings may be limited as they were only able to obtain useable data from 62 of 174 local authorities.

The AA has mounted an attack on the report’s findings with figures from the police and coroners. “Our own analysis of inquest findings uncovered six road deaths from 2009 to 2013 where coroners said the switching off of street lights had been a contributory factor,” declared Edmund King, President, AA. “Police crash investigators said the drivers had little or no chance of avoiding the collisions.”

Mr King went on to argue that incidents in 2014 present the strong possibility of a 50% increase on top of the death toll so far. He asserted that an inquest this May “confirmed” that a council decision to switch off street lights contributed to the death of a Wiltshire woman in September 2014. The outcome of an inquest into an Essex man killed in December while walking home from a Christmas party is also awaited. Another man had been knocked over just 40 minutes earlier on the same road; police then demanded that street lighting along that route be turned back on.

Citing another case, Mr King said: “An inquest into the deaths of two men on a blacked-out section of the M65 will involve the coroner asking road authorities why his warnings, after a previous crash related to the switching off of road lighting, was ignored.

Latest Department for Transport figures indicate that over the past five years, improved road safety has seen accidents in the dark on built-up roads where there is street lighting, fall 18.6% overall and 24% in the wet, snow and ice. However, where street lights are off, or not present, the reduction is 12% overall and 16.7% in bad weather.

“Although part-night lighting on 30mph roads has yet to show a problem in road casualties, it is the 40mph and faster roads that are the problem,” explained Mr King. “Crash experts say there just isn’t enough time to react, even when driving at the speed limit with the headlights on.”

Picture: A report this week states that there is no apparent link between reduced street lighting and accidents or crime levels but the AA begs to differ

Article written by Cathryn Ellis | Published 31 July 2015


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