Accident rates on unlit town and city roads continue to get worse
New AA research reveals that accident rates on unlit town and city roads continue to get worse. This winter, however, discontent with street-light blackouts threatens a backlash in next year’s elections.
Overall, the chance of an accident in the dark on an unlit street shows no sign of falling back below the 7% it reached in 2012. Last year, the risk actually rose to 8.3% where there was rain, snow, or ice on the road. However, it is the 40mph or faster roads in built-up areas that continue to be the growing menace.
Latest Department for Transport figures* show that, in 2013, the likelihood of a night-time accident along a 40mph town and city road without street lighting grew to 21%. In wet, snow or icy conditions, the odds surged from 21.99% in 2012 to 24.33% last year.
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 24.0% in the wet, snow and ice. But, where street lights are off or not present, the reduction is 12.0% overall and 16.7% in bad weather.
Again, faster roads stand out as far worse. Since 2008, night-time accidents on street-lit 40mph sections have dropped 24.1% overall and 30.4% in wet, snow or icy conditions, but are down only 10.4% on both counts where the street lights were off or not present.
As well as the six fatalities that coroners have partly or wholly blamed on the switching off of street lights since 2009, evidence is growing of a potential political backlash – particularly to the north and east of London.
The five worst councils for street lighting in this year’s National Highways and Transport Network public satisfaction survey all operate a black-out during the early hours of the morning. Essex County Council is bottom of a league of 78 councils with a score of 45.1% (Hertfordshire CC second worst with 51.7%, South Gloucestershire 56.5%, Buckinghamshire CC 58.0%, and Suffolk CC 58.7%) **.
Blackpool, with its fitting of energy-saving LED street lights through a Community Lighting Partnership, tops the street-light satisfaction league with a score of 75.8%.
Discontent with the street light switch-off has provided a rallying point for local political opposition:
You have to wonder if many councils fully appreciate the difficulties and concern their street light blackouts create for their electorates, particularly those who commute or drive early in the morning
Edmund King, AA president
“New official road safety statistics show that accident rates on blacked-out town and city roads are not getting better. In fact, on 40mph roads, they are getting much worse – particularly in bad weather. This is the type of road where most of the fatalities, for which coroners blamed street-light switch-offs as a contributory factor, happened,” says Edmund King, the AA’s president.
“You have to wonder if many councils fully appreciate the difficulties and concern their street light blackouts create for their electorates, particularly those who commute or drive early in the morning. For instance, Hertfordshire County Council’s policy review found that the first and last trains of the day required travellers to walk to and from the station in the pitch black ***. Little wonder perhaps that counties on the outskirts of the capital, where workers have to get going very early or late to beat the rush, are seeing such a strong backlash.”
This tallies with an AA-Populus survey in February where 12% of 24,351 AA members said they left their house, or arrived home, between the hours of 12 midnight and 5am for work, a social event or because of transport disruption at least once in the past month. In London, it was 15%, or around one in seven of them.
The AA would ask that, as a priority, the lights go back on along 40mph or faster roads in built-up areas
Edmund King, AA president
King adds: “We commend councils for taking part in the National Highways and Transport Network public satisfaction survey for the transparency of public opinion it provides. Some have reacted to what they have found by turning off their lights later or are now considering a switch to energy-saving LED technology.
“The AA would ask that, as a priority, the lights go back on along 40mph or faster roads in built-up areas. Crash investigators in inquests have consistently stated that drivers who keep to the speed limit on those roads have little or no chance of missing pedestrians that suddenly appear out of the dark.
“If not, with national and local elections looming, putting cost-savings before road safety hands political opponents a strong populist position to argue on the doorsteps – as Richmond borough councillors found in 2010 when voters rejected CO2-related charges for cars parked with their engines off. This time we will see if Mondeo Man and the bellwether electorate of Basildon make Essex the ‘heart of darkness’ in the electoral battle over councils switching off street lights.”
(5 December 2014)
* Reported Road Casualties Great Britain: annual report 2013, published by Department for Transport, September 2014
** NHT Network Public Satisfaction Survey 2014 – street lighting league table