‘More light isn’t necessarily better’

The lighting industry needs to look more carefully at the role and value of streetlighting, in the wake of research showing that cost-saving streetlight switch-offs have not had an effect on crime or road accidents, experts at LuxLive said this week.

Statistician Phil Edwards of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine published the research earlier this year. At LuxLive, he discussed his findings with Matt Murray and Nigel Parry of lighting manufacturers CU Phosco and OrangeTek; Reine Karlsson of Lund University; and Simon Nicholas, a campaigner who has taken his local council to court over its plans to introduce LED streetlighting.

Edwards explained that his research, funded by the Department of Health, aimed to discover whether switching off streetlights at midnight to save money leads to an increase in road accidents or crime. The team looked into 14 years’ worth of data for 20,000 km of road where councils turned lights off.

Surprisingly, Edwards said, while there is evidence that introducing lighting increases pride in an area and reduces crime, turning off or dimming the lighting didn’t lead to an increase in crime or road casualties. “There was no change,” he said.

We can’t tell whether there is less use of streets when lighting goes off… potential victims may simply choose not to be there.”

Phil Edwards

He admitted that this is a complex area – for instance, crime may in some cases be more likely with lights on, and in other cases more likely with lights off. So there may be less burglaries from cars when there’s no light available, because “people need to know there’s something to steal”.

He added that: “we can’t tell whether there is less use of streets when lighting goes off… potential victims may simply choose not to be there.”

OrangeTek’s Parry agreed, saying that whether or not streetlights are lit has an effect on “our willingness to go out”.

Parry said that he hoped switch-offs would become less common as more sophisticated lighting controls offered better solutions. “Five years ago, local authorities only had the choice of switching on or off,” he said. “Now there is the option of dimming – the technology has come a long way.”

Reine Karlsson said it is critical to consider the potential benefits of new technologies. “Energy savings can correlate with better lighting if done in the right way,” he said. “More light isn’t necessarily better. It’s about right light, right place, right time.”

More light isn’t necessarily better. It’s about right light, right place, right time”

Reine Karlsson

That said, according to Simon Nicholas the industry needs to engage with the general public far more than it currently does, in order to deliver what people actually want. “Let’s have lighting which responds to demand,” he said. “There is no single solution and it’s the end user who defines what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’.”

Indeed, according to OrangeTek’s Parry, the technology is moving forward so fast that there are many more options available today. “When the switch-off happened, it’s true that not much happened in terms of public consultation,” he said, “And now everyone is talking about smart cities”. He added, however, that there is a lot of apathy.

“We now have much larger freedom of action,” added Karlsson, pointing to the rapid developments of the past few years. “The guidance doesn’t reflect the new possibilities and challenges.”

“The sense of being safe and the real thing are two different things,” he continued. “And whereas we used to think of lighting as something static, now we can have it just when people are there – using sensors and intelligence.”

“Lighting authorities and professionals have the knowledge to think about solutions for better roads,” concluded Edwards. “We need to ensure data is collected and linked to crime and crash data … and to learn about how lighting might affect that is fascinating.”

“We need to hit the pause button, to review what we’re doing, to share data and pull together more,” added Murray.

Picture: LongExposures

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“The sense of being safe and the real thing are two different things"

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