Great streetlight switch-off leaves 999 crews in the dark

Councils struggling to meet austeriy cuts placed on them by the government are turning off streetlights as a quick fix to save money, but the move could be putting lives at risk. 

Ambulance crews are finding it more and more difficult to find the homes of 999 callers, as local authorties around the country opt to turn of street lights in order to save money.

Complaints have been made by crews in Lincolnshire, where the local council has switched off 38,000 streetlights from 10pm until midnight.

The switching off of streetlights is being undertaken by councils across the UK in an attempt to save millions of pounds that are being taken out of local budgets, thanks to government austerity measures.

A spokesman for the East Midlands Ambulance Service told Lincolnshire Live that crews are already struggling to meet response times due to cuts in their own funding.

The dark streets are acting to make a bad situation worse by making it more difficult to get patients to hospital safely, the crews claim.

‘Darkness is affecting our service,’ Blanche Lentz, paramedic and general manager for Lincolnshire at the East Midlands Ambulance Service commented.

‘If the lights are switched off it can be harder to find houses as their numbers aren’t always visible. It can also mean that crews are more likely to trip over things as they can’t see high pavements.’

Lincolnshire County Council are in the process of switching the area’s street lighting to LED. 17,000 streetlights are set to be upgraded to the energy saving technology, while 3,000 streetlamps are set to be turned off altogether.

The scheme, which has been met with consternation from local residents, is set to save the local council £10 million over ten years.

However, the worry remains that despite the cost-saving elements involved, switching off streetlights is putting lives at risk.

‘Our crews face challenges when working in darkness and in a life threatening emergency, seconds count,’ Lentz concluded.

Comments 2

Currently in the USA, police and other first responders use radio signals to control traffic signals to get them more quickly to an emergency scene. We call this "Traffic Signal Preemption" or "Traffic Signal Prioritization". Signals at intersections can be controlled by a main office or automatically when an emergency vehicle switches on the vehicle's emergency warning lights. With the growth of smart lighting and smart cities I envision street lights that switch on ahead of an emergency vehicle during its critical journey. Certainly cost and hacker-proofing will be factors but I believe we can overcome these. Any vehicle could opt-out with a dashboard switch or even set for 50% illumination, etc. Municipal codes requiring clear, visible street numbers can add to the effectiveness of locating the emergency site. Far too many municipalities fail to demand or enforce this exercise in civic responsibility.

I heard a different story from another local authority with part-night lighting: - Police just call to have local lights remotely turned on to assist with apprehending suspects - Ambulance crews prefer dark streets as it makes identifying the (lit-up) house destination easier - Fire crews don't generally need lights on, for obvious reasons. With LED streetlights the choice is not on or off, but how much to dim in the early hours. The balance between energy saving and comfort will vary from street to street.

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