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Switching off street lights does not affect safety

Wednesday 29th July 2015

Switching off street lights at night has had no adverse effect on road casualties, public health or crime levels, according to a new study by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

Many local authorities in England and Wales have reduced street lighting at night in a bid to save money and reduce carbon emissions.

The study, which is published on an ‘open access’ basis in the Journal of Epidemiology & Public Health, looks at the effect of four street lighting adaptation strategies - switch off, part-night lighting, dimming and white light - on casualties and crime in England and Wales.

The researchers analysed police data on road traffic collisions and crime in 62 local authorities during 2000–2013. They concluded ‘there was no evidence that any street lighting adaptation strategy was associated with a change in collisions at night’. They also found no evidence for an association between increased crime levels and switch off or part-night lighting, and weak evidence for a reduction in the aggregate count of crime associated with dimming and white light.

The findings are in contrast to data published in The Times in April 2014 which suggested a 20% rise in casualties in areas where street lights have been turned off.

The RAC says the report "provides councils with an opportunity to do some intelligent thinking on street lighting".

Pete Williams, RAC head of external affairs, said: “This is an insightful report, although it is important to remember that only just over a third of councils in England and Wales provided data, a point that the researchers have noted.

“While the findings suggest that crime and road accidents have not increased as a result of unlit streets, what is not measured is the fear of crime, or fear of more accidents in these locations.

"This begs the question: are residents in those areas where lights have been switched off now less inclined to go out? This assertion is supported by an accompanying report from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which indicates residents are concerned when lights are switched off, and plunging the streets into darkness makes some people feel less safe – especially among older age groups.

“Rather than introducing a blanket ‘switch off’, we advocate local councils reviewing the lighting they have in place and making smart choices in order to maintain residents’ sense of safety, while also saving money. This could mean fewer street lights in some areas, or a switch to LED technology that offers a better quality of light at a lower cost."

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This is a public health sponsored study of 13 yearsí worth of data from 62 local authority areas undertaken by researchers who are not connected with implementing the switch off programmes. It is open to peer review. Both these factors are reassuring as to the size of the study and its independence.

There is a significant difference between switching off street lights on little used (at that time of night) residential streets with a limit if 30mph or, perhaps, 20 mph between, say, midnight and 0400 and the level of lighting that is appropriate on a motorway, which is a national strategic route with a 70mph limit and completely different quantities and types of traffic during those same hours.

What is important is that proper investigation of road collision and crime reports is undertaken before deciding to switch lighting off. This does appear to be happening judging by the results found by LSHTM in their research.
Honor Byford, Chair, Road Safety GB

Agree (4) | Disagree (1)
+3

Years ago I came across a study that found that lit sections of motorways had 30% fewer crashes than unlit sections. So who is telling the truth here?
David, Suffolk

Agree (6) | Disagree (2)
+4