An investigation has found that more and more of Britain’s roads are going dark at night as local authorities are dimming and shutting off street lights in order to save money. This is happening in residential areas, town centres, cycle paths, footpaths, major roads and motorways. Councils and road authorities are trying to save money on energy costs, as well as trying to meet carbon emissions targets, by turning off street lamps as soon as 9pm. However, police and safety campaigners are concerned this will lead to more crime and road accidents.
The investigation was conducted by The Sunday Telegraph and has been revealed as the clock is moved back one hour. This means that the evenings will turn dark sooner. The probe found that the street lights on 3,080 miles of trunk roads and motorways in England remain off, while another 47 miles of motorway don’t have lights between 12am and 5am – including stretches on the M1, M2, M4, M5, M6, and others. Overall, 70% of the motorway network isn’t lit at night.
The newspaper also discovered that 73% of the councils it investigated said they dim or turn off some lights, or are planning to. All 27 county councils in England have already done this. Most councils have started turning lights off when they are less needed, and others have installed dimming lamps.
Local authorities say these measures help reduce energy bills during a time when several major energy providers have hiked their prices. Some councils are expecting hundreds of thousands of pounds in savings, but some admit they may not see the savings for another four or five years. This is due expenses for installing complex control systems, new lights and dimmer switches. Other councils, including the Highways Agency, say that lights are also being shut off to meet carbon emissions targets by cutting electricity consumption.
Safety and motoring organisations have criticised these money-saving measures, saying that the environmental and economic benefits are being over-exaggerated. They warn that less lighting on streets will lead to more crime and accidents on the road.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents says that the presence of street lights reduces the risk of traffic accidents, as well as how severe the accidents are. Research shows that the public is in favour of lighted streets to improve road safety and that some areas need some improvement. There are environmental and economic reasons why some organisations may want to reduce the use of street lamps, but there are safety reasons why there needs to be lighting.
AA head of roads policy Paul Watters says they know that most accidents happen when it’s dark. Street lights are also comforting for motorists if they are returning home after catching a late train. There are suggestions that less lighting will cause an increase in crime. So turning street lamps off may save money in energy costs, but accident, security and safety expenses may rise.
Watters added that they have heard some milkmen are tripping and falling more, so dimming and turning off street lighting has implications that haven’t even been considered. Drivers on the motorway don’t like when situations change – from light to dark and vice-versa – but he doesn’t think they would be in favour of no lighting at all. Street lights are very comforting for motorists – particularly when there’s bad weather.