The UK is seeing swathes of its street lights being turned off to cut costs and pollution, but is there a bigger price to pay for darker roads?
According to research published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, which is based on 14 years of data from 62 local authorities across England and Wales, the answer is no.
It found there was no link between reduced street lighting and crime. In addition, the study said it found no correlation between reduced lighting and night-time collisions, suggesting drivers are just as safe in the dark – perhaps in part due to how much brighter the average headlight is on a modern car.
The study looked at councils who had undergone a range of reduced light stategies, including switching them off permanently, dimming the lights, reducing the length of time they are on and replacing orange lamps with white LEDs.
Crime, meanwhile, was assessed by looking at what type of street lighting was used at crime locations between 2010 and 2013, focussing more on offences that take place at night such as burglary and theft of a vehicle.
The study did admit, however, that switching off street lights can sometimes have negative results.
Co-author and professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine Shane Johnson explained: “The study findings suggest that energy saving street lighting adaptations have not increased area level crime in the neighbourhoods studied.
“This is very encouraging but it is important to note that it does not mean that this will be the case under all conditions, and so changes to lighting should be managed carefully.”
The data flies in the face of AA research. AA president Edmund King was “extremely surprised” by the results, adding that: “Our own analysis of inquest findings uncovered six road deaths from 2009 to 2013 where coroners said the switching off of street lights had been a contributory factor.
“Police crash investigators said the drivers had little or no chance of avoiding the collisions. At the same time, Department for Transport statistics show that significant reductions in night-time accidents along roads with lighting have been stunted on unlit town and city streets.”
King pointed out a number of deaths caused by the lack of street lights, including a woman from Wiltshire and two men on a dark section of the M65 in Lancashire, England.
The study was completed by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in partnership with the University College of London.