Although some councils have recognised the danger and turned their street lights back on, others are ignoring inquest findings
Six deaths partly caused by councils switching off street lights to save money have left drivers no option but to drive on full beam along faster (40mph) residential roads, says the AA.
At least five pedestrians and a cyclist have been killed since 2009 because, according to accident investigators at inquests, drivers had little or no chance of avoiding the collisions on blacked-out roads with speed limits of 40mph or higher.
Although some councils have recognised the danger and turned their street lights back on, others are ignoring inquest findings. On 2 July 2014, a Warwickshire County Council committee planned to maintain its late night black-out despite the death of a student in December 2012.
The council has saved £60,000 more than it expected after switching off 80% of its street lights after midnight. It has also found £1 million to switch the remaining street lights to energy-saving LED technology. However, it planned not to convert the lights it turned off on 40mph or higher-speed roads – despite evidence that these are being turned into potential death-traps.
Since 2009, there have been at least six inquests into deaths on blacked-out roads, all where the speed limit was 40mph or more. In four, accident investigators said the drivers stood little or no chance of avoiding the collision:
Other victims on roads where the speed limit was 40mph or more and the street lights turned off were: Daria Pikus (March 2013, Wellingborough) and Sherwin Sequeira (October 2011, Milton Keynes).
For a car travelling at 40mph, the Highway Code gives a typical stopping distance of 36 metres – 12 to react, 24 to brake – or 120 feet. At 40mph, a car covers 59 feet per second.
In April 2014, the AA highlighted official statistics showing that accident reductions between 2007 and 2012 were far less on 40mph where street lights had been switched off.
At what point will the government take action or help councils to finance the switch to energy-saving street lights: 10, 15, 20 inquests later?
Edmund King, AA president
“There is growing evidence that cost-savings from councils turning off street lights are being paid for with lives. In particular, inquests point to a particular danger on roads with speed limits of 40mph or higher,” says Edmund King, the AA’s president.
“Many of these inquests clear the drivers of blame, which means these tragic deaths are accidents waiting to happen. For that reason, drivers have no choice but to slow down and switch to full beam on faster town roads where late night street lighting used to make roads and streets safer places to travel. Previously, they may have preferred to drive on dipped beams to disturb residents less.
“With many more councils switching off their street lights for at least part of the night, the street-light blackout tragedy will just get worse. AA research* shows that 12% of drivers (24% for 18-24 year olds) set off to or return from work in the small hours.
“At what point will the government take action or help councils to finance the switch to energy-saving street lights: 10, 15, 20 inquests later? Until then, the AA is advising its members to use full beam where councils have imposed a blackout, even in residential areas, except where they may dazzle other drivers, riders and pedestrians.”
(4 July 2014)
* AA-Populus survey of 24,351 AA members (21 February - 3 March)