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Streetlight removal to blame for rise in road deaths?

Reduction in road lights attributed to rise in road casualties on UK roads.

Turning off streetlights was a bright idea designed to save money, reduce emissions and lessen the effect of light pollution. Sadly it seems there was a darker consequence. Police data obtained by The Times newspaper has highlighted a rise in road casualties.

Police data shows road deaths have increased by 39 per cent since 2009, which is when the lighting crackdown began. Serious injuries also rose by 27 per cent, while minor injuries rose by 19 per cent. 324 people have died or been injured in 2011 to 2012 in unlit areas.

The 20 per cent increase on unlit stretches of road goes against the universal decrease in road casualties seen in recent years, which is partly attributed to high levels of congestion and cars with increasingly clever safety features built into cars such as lane departure warnings and automatic braking systems.

More than 750,000 streetlights have reportedly been switched off or are in the process of being switched off as councils and the Highways Agency try to save money and reduce the level of greenhouse gases.

AA research discovered a similar outcome. It found night-time accidents in bad weather on well-lit 30mph urban roads had been reduced by 15.6 per cent over the last five years. In unlit areas only a fall of 2 per cent was noted.

Turning off streetlights affected more than just road accidents. Reports say ambulance drivers in Devon take longer to respond in emergencies because of the need to navigate around dark streets.

Places in the UK that have turned their lights off include Devon, Essex, Kent and Buckinghamshire. Five of the 46 locations in Buckinghamshire had to be switched back on after an increase in accidents in 2012. A request by a coroner saw Milton Keynes also switch streetlights back on in the same year.

“Worse accident rates on roads with street lights turned off or not present is an insidious threat that has crept in literally under the cover of darkness,” AA president Edmund King commented. RAC Foundation director Professor Stephen Glaister also criticised the move, claiming that councils and the Highways Agency ignored prior warnings from experts.

The Local Government Association said the data is insufficient in proving the rise in road casualties. “Police and communities are always consulted before lighting is reduced. If councils were presented with evidence it was causing a safety risk they would act. However, this data fails to provide that evidence,” a spokesperson said.

The Netherlands has been trying to tackle the problem of streetlight running costs head on with a clever alternative that uses the sun’s energy to glow in the dark at night.

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