A big street light switch-off by councils is prompting fears that road safety is being put in jeopardy. The number of street lights being either dimmed or extinguished altogether is on the rise.
The lights, on motorways, major roads, in town centres, residential streets and on footpaths and cycle ways are being targeted by local councils bidding to save money on energy bills and meet carbon dioxide emissions limits.
A new survey by the Labour Party has revealed that three quarters of councils are either dimming or extinguishing lights altogether. The research covered 141 of the 150 local councils in the UK responsible for a total of 5.7 million street lights. It found that 106 councils were doing a street light switch-off or setting them to shine less brightly, increasing the total number of dimmed or doused lights to 1.36 million.
A 2012 investigation by the Sunday Telegraph found that in the UK, 3080 miles of motorways and trunk roads in England were completely unlit. All of England’s 27 county councils said they had switched off or dimmed some lights, or were planning to.
Councils hope to save hundreds of thousands of pounds with the street light switch-off. Leicestershire County Council expects to save £800,000 a year in energy bills by dimming a third of its street lights. And the Highways Agency claims it makes an annual saving of £400,000 by switching off lights along a 15-mile section of the M1 motorway. Other authorities believe they will have to wait a few years to reap the savings because of the investment needed in timers and dimmers.
The Labour Party research showed that Essex switched off the most lights with 83 per cent being turned off and none dimmed. Dorset switched off 66 per cent and Hertfordshire 64 per cent. Neither dimmed any lights. At the other end of the scale, Surrey dimmed 99 per cent of its lights and didn’t switch any off; Hampshire dimmed 74 per cent without extinguishing any.
Whatever the councils’ policy, road safety experts believe the street light switch-off and corresponding lower lighting levels lead to an increase in the chance of crashes. A spokesman for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) said: “The presence of lighting not only reduces the risk of traffic accidents but also their severity. Surveys have shown that the public are in favour of street lighting as a way of improving road safety and that, if anything, it needs to be improved in some areas. There are economic and environmental reasons why some organisations may wish to reduce the amount of lighting. However there are safety reasons why lighting needs to be available.”
A spokesman for store giant Halfords said: “Poor lighting or none at all can make it very difficult for motorists to see hazards or objects clearly at night. Added to this Government figures show that road accidents increase in the week after the clocks change, so it is clear that extra vigilance is needed at this time of the year, from motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.” Supporters say that councils usually only switch street lights off between midnight and 5am when there aren’t many people about.