Street Lights

Councils should switch off their lights rather than street lights

14 October 2008

A street light

Improved street lighting can reduce crime by 30%1 and yet according to the AA more local authorities have been secretly switching off the lights. The AA claims this will lead to more car crashes and increased crime.

Rather than switching off streetlights the AA feels that some local authorities should be switching off their own office lights at night.

Lighting can improve safety for drivers, riders, and pedestrians and deter street crime.

There is an irony that as many councils are switching off streetlights, the transport minister, Rosie Winterton MP has told us "Experience shows that better streetlighting helps improve road safety, as well as reducing crime and the fear of crime. It also helps create happier and healthier local communities by promoting social inclusion and more sustainable patterns of transport by encouraging people to cycle and walk."

Fewer accidents

An AA study shows that driving outside of daylight hours is more dangerous – only a quarter of all travel by car drivers is between the hours of 7pm and 8am, yet this period accounts for 40% of fatal and serious injuries.

A Department for Transport study found 63.8% agreed that 'improved street lighting would lead to fewer accidents on the roads'.

On urban main roads a 30% reduction in night time injury accidents can be expected following a significant improvement to very poor lighting.

Low illumination is a major contributory factor in the night-time fatality rate.

  • On motorways, 2.6% of accidents are fatal where street lighting is present, compared to 4.3% of accidents where it is not
  • On built up roads, 1.3% of accidents are fatal where street lighting is present, compared to 1.9% where it is not
  • On non-built up roads 3.1% of accidents are fatal in lit conditions, rising to 4.9% in areas without street lights

AA comment

Commenting AA president, Edmund King, said: "Turning off street lights to save money or reduce CO2 may backfire in terms of increased accidents and crime. In the dark drivers' reactions tend to be slower and stopping distances longer. Street lighting can reduce the risk of crashes and their severity.

"The public are in favour of street lighting as a way of improving road safety. Cyclists and pedestrians are more at risk on unlit streets. Local authorities should consider more environmentally friendly lighting rather than putting us all in the dark. In terms of reducing CO2 AA research shows that local authorities will have more effect improving traffic flow than turning off the lights."

AA Insurance has also expressed reservations about the switching off of street lights in urban areas. Quite apart from the increased risk to pedestrians and cyclists, urban environments present numerous unlit potential hazards. When the clocks go back the number of car insurance claims increases by 13 per cent. Lack of street lighting also provides cover of darkness for burglars and will place greater pressure on local police resources.

Factfile

1 "Research on Street lighting and crime" for Home Office (Dr Kate Painter, Cambridge).

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14 October 2008