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Blackout Britain - Motorists face dangerous threat as the lights go out

car headlights illuminating the night
  • There are 7.5million street lights in the UK.  Some local authorities have turned off lights at selected times and switched others off completely, in a bid to save money1
  • 78% of motorists say that switching off essential street lighting is an appalling and dangerous idea
  • Nearly a third (30%) think local authorities should carry out consultation before implementing the measure
  • Two thirds (62%) of motorists regularly drive in the dark with the majority failing to adequately use their vehicle's lights to see clearly
  • The accident risk for pedestrians is trebled when the lights are switched off
  • The frequency of road accidents increases four-fold when the clocks change as it takes a week for road users to adapt to the new conditions

As the clocks go back this weekend and the nights draw in, motorists are being warned about the dangers of driving at night following a number of local authorities' decisions to plunge the UK's roads into blackout chaos.  

The findings of a report from Autoglass® and conducted by road safety expert Dr Nick Gkikas2  highlight that switching off road lights seriously compromises road safety.  Lack of illumination means drivers struggle to clearly see objects and hazards, placing cyclists and pedestrians at high risk.

Buckinghamshire County Council, Leicestershire, and Essex have already turned off street lights and similar schemes are already planned across Swansea, Devon and parts of Yorkshire.  In addition, seven stretches of motorway have now been plunged into darkness until 5am every night.

 

 

The situation may become even more widespread following the recent Spending Review, with local councils expected to have to make savage cuts in services as they tackle cuts of nearly 30 per cent.  This may lead to more local authorities considering switching off street lighting as an immediate way to save costs. 

 

The study also found that the risk of driving in poor lighting conditions is further heightened around the time of year when the clocks change, with the frequency of road accidents increasing four-fold in the week after the changeover as road users can take up to a week to adapt their behaviour to the new environmental conditions.  Only half (50%) of drivers deliberately adopt a more careful approach when driving during wintertime and less than a third (30%) of them drive slower in the winter. 

In addition, a poll of 3,000 motorists highlights the plight of drivers who recognise it will jeopardise pedestrians' safety (50%), put cyclists at risk (40%) and also impact on motorists' safety (35%).  Overall more than a quarter (27%) acknowledge that turning off the lights will affect their ability to see hazards clearly. 

More than three quarters (78%) say that switching off essential street lighting is an appalling and dangerous idea and nearly a third (30%) think local authorities should carry out consultation before implementing the measure. 

The study found that the accident rate for pedestrians is trebled when the lights are switched off and motorists fail to suitably use their headlights.  Two thirds (62%) regularly drive in the dark, but 62% rarely use their full beams on dark motorways and 60% don't use them on A roads. 

Furthermore, the study showed that 40 per cent of pedestrians questioned go out walking at night time more than twice a week, and that nearly eight out of ten times (76%) these take place in an urban or suburban environment. In parallel, 64% of cyclists regularly go out during night time, but worryingly only a quarter (27%) wear high visibility clothing, which could help drivers detect them from a safe distance at nighttime. 

Through this evidence, the report highlighted that the high involvement rate of pedestrians and cyclists in accidents associated with limited lighting indicates that street lighting should be compulsory, particularly as there is a low frequency of vehicle-only accidents. 

Matthew Mycock, managing director of Autoglass® comments: "The Highways Agency has already admitted there could be an increase in accident rates as a result of turning off the road lighting.  There are also fears that more roads will see black-outs as councils across the country try to save money.  We have commissioned this report as the road safety of motorists is paramount to us as one in ten accidents is caused by impaired vision.  We are calling for local authorities to seriously consider the locations of the blackouts and the potential use of alternative measures such as dimming the lights, turning off every alternative light or switching to low energy lamps. 

"As the clocks go back and the dark nights draw in, we're advising motorists to take extra care on the roads by checking all car lights and headlamps making sure they are free from damage or cracks as well as clean. Also to check front and rear wiper blades for wear and splitting - a clean, smear free windscreen is essential to a clear view of the road ahead, especially at night."

Dr Nick Gkikas comments: "While we're not suggesting it is impossible to implement energy saving schemes without compromising road safety, our report clearly shows that more thought needs to be given to the detailed factors behind visibility-related accidents.  At the moment, it all seems quite rushed and decision-makers haven't realised what is at stake here.  Of course we all want to do our bit for the environment and the economy, but as a single serious injury can cost the society millions of pounds in the long term, we need to develop methods for the appropriate specification of when and where to switch lights off.  This means taking into account some of the interesting points this report highlights, such as a driver's visibility of hazards and the likelihood of where they will face these risks most often."

 

Adrian Walsh, Director at Roadsafe, adds: "Lights or no lights this is a timely reminder to all drivers that they need to take extra care in these wintery evenings when the roads are often slippery. Don't wait until it's fully dark to turn on your lights, use headlights even when there are street lights, especially in built up areas. Keep a good look out, see and be seen. Pedestrians and cyclists too need to take extra care, be highly visible and never assume that you have been seen by drivers."

 

Notes

Shocking footage showing the dangers of driving at night in poor lighting conditions can be downloaded at https://files.me.com/thriller4/d653gg

1 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11209143

2 Dr Nick Gkikas is a Human Factors Engineer for Autonomics (www.autonomics-consulting.co.uk). He is founding member and Chair of the Driving Ergonomics SIG of the Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors. He has previously worked for the Vehicle Safety Research Centre (VSRC) at Loughborough University. In 2008, he was member of the research team which won the Queen's Anniversary Award for Higher Education for its contribution to road safety in the United Kingdom.

 


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