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Reduced streetlighting doesn’t increase crime or crashes… probably

July 29, 2015 - Contrary to popular belief, reduced streetlighting is not necessarily associated with road traffic collisions or crime... probably.


July 29, 2015
By Anthony Capkun

“At a time when local authorities need to make spending cuts, our findings show that by carefully assessing risks, streetlighting can be reduced without an increase in car crashes and crime,” said Dr. Phil Edwards, the lead investigator of a study conducted by researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (in partnership with University College London), which suggests local authorities can safely reduce streetlighting at night, thereby saving energy and reducing carbon emissions.

The researchers analyzed 14 years of data from 62 local authorities across England and Wales that had implemented a range of reduced streetlighting strategies, including switching lights Off permanently, reducing the number of hours that lamps are switched On, dimming lights, and replacing traditional orange lamps with white-light LED lamps.

To assess road safety, they looked at all roads in participating authorities, examining what type of streetlighting was used and the number of traffic collisions that happened at night relative to the day during 2000-2013. The researchers found no evidence of an association between reduced streetlighting and nighttime collisions across England and Wales.

To assess crime, researchers looked at data from 2010-2013 to analyze how many crimes occurred in an area and what types of streetlighting were present. They focused on offences they deemed more likely to occur at night (e.g. burglary, vehicle theft, robbery, etc.) and, again, found no evidence suggesting an association between reduced streetlighting and increased crime.

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“This is very encouraging, but it is important to note that it does not mean that this will be the case under all conditions, and so changes to lighting should be managed carefully,” warned study co-author Shane Johnson of UCL Security & Crime Science.

The researchers caution that streetlight reductions need to be carefully planned by local authorities. In an accompanying study, researchers from the Hygiene school found that while reduced streetlighting had gone largely unnoticed in many areas, their interviewees had some strong concerns where the lights had been switched Off altogether. Streetlighting at night was found to be important to many urban and suburban residents, and some felt less safe in the dark. Switching off lights was also perceived as representing neglect of an area by the local authority.