Like many road users, I’ve always been thankful for the presence of street lights which make me feel a lot safer when driving my car or walking along pavements after dark.
Ask any road user and they’ll tell you that street lights make them feel a lot safer, and less likely to be involved in a collision. A study released this week, however, has cast doubt on a long-held view that there are more night-time accidents on roads with no street lighting.
A report on the effect of reduced street lighting, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, claims that switching off or dimming street lights does not lead to a greater collision risk.
The researchers analysed 14 years of data from 62 councils across England and Wales – all of whom had strategies of either dimming street lights or permanently switching them off. They then looked at the number of road traffic accidents that happened at night in those areas, relative to the daytime.
Hard to Believe
The report’s findings that there was no evidence of an association between reduced street lighting and accidents at night certainly goes against research carried out in the past.
AA president Edmund King said he was “extremely surprised” at the results of the study and said they contradicted the AA’s own research on street lighting and accident risk. In 2014, an AA study on street lighting and inquest findings uncovered six fatal road accidents where coroners had said that the switching off of street lights had been a contributory factor. AA members have been advised to drive using their full beams on roads where street lights have been switched off, except where this could dazzle other road users.
Saving Money by Risking Lives?
Costs savings are usually the reason behind reduced street lighting strategies, which have long been criticised by road safety groups such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA).
RoSPA point out that 40% of road collisions happen at night and that decreased visibility is a major factor in this. Drivers can’t see as far, their eyes take a while to adjust to driving on a dark road and hazards seem to appear out of nowhere. Add onto this the fact that, at this time of day, drivers are much more likely to be tired and you can imagine how risky driving on some dark roads can be.
The recent suggestion that there is no link between reduced street lighting and accident risk is bound to be welcomed by many local authorities who are already under pressure to make sweeping budget cuts.
The findings of the study may well be right in that some areas with reduced street lighting might not see an increase in night-time accidents, but other areas will do – and I’d urge any council planning reduced street lighting in their area to carefully analyse local accident data and assess the risk to all road users before they go ahead and switch the lights off.
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