RAC urges against blanket lights-out

The RAC has urged local authorities against a knee-jerk reaction following new evidence which suggests motorists are at no greater safety risk with street lights off at night.

This should not mean a blanket switch-off. Instead a ‘halfway house’ with selective lights left on and low-cost, better-quality lamps introduced could provide the most effective results.

Researchers headed by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and University College London found that neither road accidents nor crime increase when lights are turned off after dark.

The research follows fears expressed by road users and the Labour party that local authorities are switching off streets lights in the evening as a cost-cutting measure. Studies point to one in three lamps not being used at night.

The academics researched local authority data stretching back 14 years across 62 councils. They found no link between more traffic accidents and crime when street lighting is cut back.

The RAC points out that what the research can’t measure is the actual fear of a crime being committed, particularly among older people.

Pete Williams, external affairs head, said, ‘This is an insightful report into the effects of reduced street lighting, although it is important to remember that only just over a third of councils in England and Wales provided data, a point that the researchers have noted.’

‘While the findings suggest that crime and road accidents have not increased as a result of unlit streets, what is not measured is the fear of crime, or fear of more accidents in these locations.’

‘This begs the question: are residents in those areas where lights have been switched off now less inclined to go out?’

‘This assertion is supported by an accompanying report from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which indicates residents are concerned when lights are switched off, and plunging the streets into darkness makes some people feel less safe – especially among older age groups.’

Mr Williams continued, ‘Rather than introducing a blanket ‘switch off’ of street lights, we advocate local councils reviewing the lighting they have in place and making smart choices in order to maintain residents’ sense of safety, while also saving money.’

‘This could mean fewer street lights in some areas, or a switch to LED technology that offers a better quality of light at a lower cost.’

‘This report therefore provides councils with an opportunity to do some intelligent thinking on street lighting, in order to achieve the important objectives of maintaining or improving the safety of pedestrians and road users.’

The Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health published the new report.