Street lighting could be reduced at night, saving energy costs and reducing carbon emissions without increasing crime or accidents, a new report out of the UK has found.

The study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, looked at 14 years of data from 62 local authorities across England and Wales that had implemented a range of street light reduction strategies, including switching lights off permanently, reducing the number of light hours, dimming lights, and replacing traditional orange lamps with energy efficient white light LED lamps.

The researchers found there was no evidence of an association between reduced street lighting and night-time collisions, or between reduced street lighting and increased crime – specifically burglary, theft of or from a vehicle, robbery, violence and sexual assault.

“The study findings suggest that energy saving street lighting adaptations have not increased area level crime in the neighbourhoods studied,” study co-author Professor Shane Johnson said.

“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.”

Many urban planners have noted the occurrence of overlighting in cities.

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However the idea is contentious one, with the researchers also finding in an accompanying study that while reduced lighting had gone largely unnoticed, a lack of street light did make some people feel less safe. Switching off lights was also perceived as representing neglect of an area by the local authority, who were removing a “public good”.

In Sydney, upgrading street lighting became an issue of outrage when in 2013 columnist Miranda Devine claimed City of Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore’s “jihad against ‘carbon pollution’” was having serious consequences, stating that the “rape of a Belgian tourist in a dark alley in Potts Point… [was] a warning that environmentally sensitive street lighting will take a terrible human toll”.

Devine’s claim that LED light “doesn’t spread as far, so the area of illumination is smaller” was refuted by the Lord Mayor.

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  1. From a personal experience perspective, being a female, I think there is always a threat to walk in a dimly lit street. There is also evidence that where medium intensity housings are progressively happening in the suburbs where more people are walking on the streets at night, there is no improvement for the street lighting and also there is no ongoing maintenance to the tree canopies that reduces the spread of lights resulting.
    Effective automatic control of street lighting to provide when and where light is needed should be the way to go forward.

  2. This goes to the heart of what we have suspected for a long time now. We are over lighting our cities. The Australian Standard for street lighting is still very much based on the excessive culture of the 1980s when power was cheap, urban blocks were large, and buildings were set back from street frontages, streets were wide. Today we live in suburbs with houses constructed close, or on frontage boundaries, vehicles with much improved headlights, narrow streets, high power cost and an awareness of the environmental impact. Local government continually receives complaint from people about how they cannot sleep due to street lights just outside windows,that streets are being lit to help vandals late at night and asking us to at least turn them down after midnight when there is virtually no traffic or pedestrian use – which is what they are being designed for!! Makes sense to me.

  3. I am very surprised to learn that fewer street lights do not increase the amount of crashes, especially in busy towns and cities. As far as crime is concerned, criminals probably operate in areas where there is no lighting as opposed to areas where there is less lighting.

  4. I think we have to go beyond just street lights. Safety comes when you have a strong community where people care for each other and look out for each other. #UIWGroup wants to create low impact sustainable urban communities where one of the goals is creating a security for all.

  5. I’ve been waiting years for a decent scientific study to show this, because the “rape and pillage” scenario never made any sense to me. Not only would we save heaps in terms of greenhouse emissions, but also, without all that light pollution, we’d also be able to see the stars again! How good would that be!

    Of course Mad Miranda Devine is totally driven by ideological hatred of “Climate Clover” (not to mention “Carbon Cate”). She’s the absolute opposite of scientific.

    Give us the night back.

    Gavin Gatenby