Chorus of disapproval over plans to switch off street lights

Local government money saving idea unites motorists and cyclists in opposition

by Martin Thomas   September 8, 2010  

Street light (photo: Martin Thomas)

A growing number of local authorities across the UK are planning on turning off street lights to save money, prompting concern among MPs, motoring bodies and cyclists.

According to the BBC, the UK’s 7.5 million street lights cost about £500m a year to power.

In the face of swingeing central government budget cuts, many local authorities across the country are thinking about turning theirs off.

Buckinghamshire County Council said it had turned off 1,600 of the 28,000 street lights around the county and was saving about £700,000 a year as a result.

Spokesman Keith Carpenter told the BBC, "I can assure people that we are carefully monitoring this trial. We have the intention of saving money but without compromising road safety."

Similar schemes have already started or are planned elsewhere, including Swansea, Somerset, Essex, Leicestershire, Devon, Shropshire and parts of Yorkshire.

In Somerset, the council said turning off 500 lights between 0030 and 0500 would save £18,500 a year and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 122 tonnes a year. It had already carried out a two-year trial of switching off lights on parts of the A370 and A371.

Councillors in Leicestershire have said a scheme which permanently switched off 60 street lights - and turned off 1,300 village lamps between midnight and 0530 – had saved money.

Commons Transport Select Committee chairwoman Louise Ellman said she feared safety was being compromised. Mrs Ellman said, "I am extremely concerned that financial pressures are leading to steps which can jeopardise people’s lives and increase the number of injuries. We've made great progress in recent years in reducing the number of deaths and injuries on our roads.

“It would be tragic if by switching the lights off that progress was to be put back many years."

AA president Edmund King has voiced similar fears to the Daily Telegraph, following a study showing that driving in the dark is more dangerous. While only a quarter of drivers are on the road between 7pm and 8am, that period accounts for 40 per cent of crashes.

Mr King said, "There is a fear that in some areas these switch-offs could lead to more crashes and crime. Lighting can improve safety for drivers, riders, and pedestrians and deter street crime.

“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, that can save them £46 a light, 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."

The CTC’s Chris Peck said, "The existence of street lighting gives legal effect to the 30mph speed limit. If lights are not illuminated some drivers may take this as a signal to increase speeds at night, leading to a more hazardous road environment.

"An alternative is to allow more local authorities to adopt 20 mph speed limits, which have to be clearly signed as such. If determined to change lighting patterns councils need to be careful that drivers are aware of the need to look out for vulnerable road users, such as cyclists."

11 user comments

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Yawn Just switch them off already
oh and change to double summertime whilst you're at it!
http://www.lighterlater.org/

posted by 37monkey [143 posts]
8th September 2010 - 15:23

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Won't somebody please think of the children!!

there are many roads and streets around me that are unlit and there are NO problems with them at all.

-Drivers driving faster because the streetlights are off... at 3am?! are you mad woman, if anyone is regularly driving at that time in the morning you can be pretty sure they aint driving at the speed limit.
-And lights to see cyclists.. at 3am they'll have bloody lights on anyway! twits.

Im sure there are logical reasons not to turn them off, but these sort of knee-jerk responses are not it.

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posted by STATO [410 posts]
8th September 2010 - 15:34

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defo with you on the double summertime 37monkey - okay so they turn them off at 3am, how soon before the say let's turn 'em off at 2, then 1 and then "y'know let's not turn them on at all"

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posted by Tony Farrelly [4132 posts]
8th September 2010 - 15:52

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i dunno if they have them all turned off think of the sales in bike lights.. Devil

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posted by Fringe [1081 posts]
8th September 2010 - 19:21

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It is a bit worrying about the street lights. Mind you, if all the bulbs were switched to new generation LCDs, the cost would be paid for in about two years due to the savings in power costs. And LCDs also last longer so the long term gain to the local authorities footing the electricity bill would be substantial, not to mention the green environmental benefits.

I slow down when I'm driving at night because it seems like I'm going faster.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2132 posts]
8th September 2010 - 20:45

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Typically car-centric (and wrong) assertion from the AA: "In terms of reducing CO2, AA research shows that local authorities will have more effect improving traffic flow than turning off the lights."

A pity the research didn't include the effect on overall traffic when drivers feel they're less likely to be held up in traffic jams. Can't remember where, but I'm sure there's a pretty immutable law which says that (in car terms) that if you make it easier, people will do it more ...

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posted by timlennon [226 posts]
9th September 2010 - 9:35

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Oh cripes, this is what some of those rabid cost pinchers or rabid environmentalists get you -- or both.

Whether on a bicycle, motorcycle, or automobile, some ambiant light helps. Street lights are incredibly useful not onyl in making it easier for riders (and drivers) to see each other but also for both to see pedestrians, some of whom run across the street wearing dark clothes at nigth like ninjas. The streetlamps are important, as important as traffic lights, and while we all use plenty of lights at night (I employ several front and back myself in the dark, and reflective material on my bag for the car's hi beams to pick up)but every bit helps, and most headlights cast a relatively narrow beam. So the lights help to see. If you see, you don't crash as much. No brainer, eh?

In my area when a streetlight goes out, we report it so they can get it working again. Deliberately turning them off and endangering road users is a new thing to me, and a frighteningly dangerous trend. In my opinion it is a deliberate deriliction of duty and should open the gov't up to legal liabilities!

thelonerider

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posted by thelonerider [10 posts]
10th September 2010 - 1:57

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heaven forbid any of you people venture out of a city at night, no streetlights out in the sticks and funnily enough they seem to manage ok.

Keep them at junctions, roundabouts, dangerous corners if you must, but ive never understood why we need every street in every neighbourhood lit up like daylight when there is abosoloutley no-one about. Dosnt anyone own a torch?

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posted by STATO [410 posts]
10th September 2010 - 9:44

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isn't that the point STATO they normally have street lights where there are people and where there's more potential for accidents, are unlit country roads safer? Hmm… don't think so.

Old Ridgeback is right, what's wrong with changing the bulbs or even dimming the lights? My view on street lighting is that its main benefit is to protect other road users and pedestrians from motorists - when I'm out in the wee small hours I'm always surprised at the numbers of people around particularly young, drunk ones - and I'm not talking about in the middle of town here - driving in to and out of Bath at 3am a few weeks back it was like passing a retreating army heading out to the outlying villages. Wouldn't like to think what would happen to some of them if forced to stagger home in the pitch black

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posted by Tony Farrelly [4132 posts]
10th September 2010 - 10:14

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i think people underestimate how much you can see in your car headlights when its dark, peoples opinion is skewed by driving under lights so much. Hoody wearing runnners? if you can see them under street lights they will still be within the beam of your lights.

Of course at 60+mph you cant really see far enough ahead unless your on main beam, but what is going to jump out on you on a 60+ road that street lights could help you see? and lit country lanes? i dont know of any that are straight enough or with low enough hedges that street lighting would let you see further than headlights.

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posted by STATO [410 posts]
10th September 2010 - 10:50

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In what we regard as civilised countries, it goes without saying that the single most important responsibility of their governments and its various administrative organs are the safety and security of its citizens. As a member of the European Union this is further formalised in the UK by The Human Rights Act.

Unfortunately some sectors of elected officialdom are falling into the trap of blind obeisance to a paranoid obsession with global warming to the extent that in trying to be seen to be ‘doing something’ whether out of actual concern or to be seen as, vaingloriously, ‘being a leader’, some county and district council officials want to switch off road lighting for part of the night from around midnight to 5am. Whilst in many small rural locations this may be perfectly acceptable being low population and low traffic-volume areas, in the more densely populated conurbations this will inevitably lead to increases in crime in general, vehicle accidents and associated injuries and fatalities.

Studies by various eminent bodies and academics [1] clearly indicate a correlation between good road lighting and decreased levels of crime and vehicle accidents. Obviously, if existing road lighting is removed, even for a part of the night, the reverse will happen resulting in increased levels of these problems, the direst of which would be vehicle accident fatalities and injuries, rape and serious assault.

Essex County Council (ECC) is conducting experiments with part night road lighting in parts of the county. Whether intentionally gerrymandered or objectively selected the areas concerned are historically low crime and relatively low traffic areas which would tend to give results indicating few problems with the schemes. Some of the trial locales involve as few as 2 lamp posts, eg, Elmdon, which render any statistics ludicrously nonsensical! In some darkened areas burglaries and vandalism have increased exponentially compared with five years prior to the switch off when the roads were lit throughout the night. In what seems to be an alarmist frenzy of trying to prove that, in general, there have been no problems, ECC have ignored pleas by residents, who have experienced problems, to have the lights switched back on claiming that ‘overall’ crime has decreased! This scattergun view takes in the whole of Essex both where road lighting is kept on all night as well as the much smaller trial areas. This means that, irrespective of the increased crime in the blacked out locations, everything in grouped together and averaged thus giving a false picture of what happens in specific areas where lights are switched off.

In contrast to their responsibility of ensuring the safety and security of Essex residents and visitors, ECC are playing Russian Roulette with their lives instead. This is at variance with the authority’s moral obligations, the provisions of the Human Rights Act as well as the requirements both of their legal duty of care and also section 17 of The Crime and Disorder Act 1998. In the eyes of many this makes them criminals and, if challenged, perhaps in the eyes of the judiciary as well. The trials are extant and even though, at the time of writing this article, there have been no reports of rape, assault and vehicle accident fatalities attributed to the lights being off, this cannot be guaranteed for the future, even beyond the next night to when this article is read!

ECC’s projected CO2 savings, which is their ‘contribution’ to ‘saving the planet’, at around 7,000 tons per annum is mathematically virtually zero when compared with the world’s total output of some 26,000,000,000 tons of manmade CO2 or even the UK’s 560,000,000 tons! And at around an estimated 19p per month saving per Essex household in running and maintenance costs, or ¼p per person per day, is completely insignificant. It has, so far, cost many householders in the trial areas £100’s to install security lights to combat the blackout. It is likely to cost each householder £1000’s in increased home insurance premiums as the risks increase due to the lights being switched off.

In the scheme of things, the ECC’s trials and prospective Essex-wide switch off are potentially lethal and completely pointless from the aspect of reducing global warming and saving costs. Various initiatives by the national government are already reducing CO2 by hundreds of thousands of tons annually; over time this will reach into the hundreds of millions all without exposing the public to danger.

Conclusion:

ECC councillors’ knee-jerk reaction, now hardened by their realisation that no good will come of switching off road lights, has painted them into a corner. They must be made to realise that they are in their positions to serve the public, not to dictate to them. Serious consequences of their ill-thought actions will inevitably lead to charges of corporate and individual manslaughter, massive compensation payments – unlikely to be funded by insurers, and criminal charges.

[1] The various articles include, but are not limited to:

• Home Office Research Study 251: ‘Effects of improved street lighting on crime: A systematic review. By Prof. David P. Farrington and Assoc Prof. Brandon C. Welsh
• Institution of Lighting Engineers and others: ‘Invest to save – Sustainable street lighting’
• The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents: ‘Street Lighting and Road Safety’
• Dr. Kate Painter and Prof. David P Farrington, Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge: ‘Street Lighting and Crime: Diffusion of benefits in the Stoke on Trent project’
• The Automobile Association – several articles, one being: ‘Street Lights – Councils Should Switch off their Lights Rather than Street Lights’ (dated 18/10/08)
• The Associate Parliamentary Lighting Group has also several studies in respect of the reduction of crime by the use of street lights. (Refer also to the Early day Motion tabled by Joan Walley MP on January 20 1999)

posted by Dunnthat [2 posts]
4th November 2010 - 8:41

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