Turning street lights off at night does not lead to more crime or traffic accidents, researchers have said.
Motoring and pedestrian groups have raised concerns about councils switching off their lights at night to save money, with research suggesting around a third are being turned off.
But research published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health based on 14 years of data from 62 local authorities across England and Wales found there was no evidence of an association between reduced street lighting and increased crime or traffic accidents.
AA president Edmund King said he was “extremely surprised” at the results.
“Our own analysis of inquest findings uncovered six road deaths from 2009 to 2013 where coroners said the switching off of street lights had been a contributory factor,” he said.
“Police crash investigators said the drivers had little or no chance of avoiding the collisions.
“At the same time, Department for Transport statistics show that significant reductions in night-time accidents along roads with lighting have been stunted on unlit town and city streets.”
The study, led by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in partnership with UCL (University College London), looked at councils who had implemented a range of reduced street light strategies including switching lights off permanently, reducing the number of hours that lamps are switched on at night, dimming lights, and replacing traditional orange lamps with energy efficient white light LED lamps.
To assess crime, they looked at data from 2010 to 2013 to analyse how many crimes took place in different areas and what types of street lighting were used there.
They focused on offences more likely to occur at night, including burglary, theft of or from a vehicle, robbery, violence and sexual assault. Overall, there was no evidence of an association between reduced street lighting and increased crime.
They also looked at all roads in participating authorities, examining what type of street lighting was used and the number of traffic collisions that happened at night relative to the day during 2000 to 2013.
They found no evidence of a link between reduced street lighting and night-time collisions.
Lead investigator Dr Phil Edwards, of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “An estimated £300 million is spent every year on street lights in the UK.
“At a time when local authorities need to make spending cuts, our findings show that by carefully assessing risks, street lighting can be reduced without an increase in car crashes and crime.”
Co-author Professor Shane Johnson of UCL’s department of security and crime science, said: “The study findings suggest that energy saving street lighting adaptations have not increased area level crime in the neighbourhoods studied.
“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.”
But Mr King said evidence from several inquests into road deaths contradicted the findings.
“An inquest this May confirmed that a council decision to switch off street lights contributed to the death of a Wiltshire woman in September 2014,” he said.
“The outcome of an inquest into an Essex man killed in December while walking home from a Christmas party is also awaited. Another man had been knocked over just 40 minutes earlier on the same road - police then demanded that street lighting along that route be turned back on.
“An inquest into the deaths of two men on a blacked-out section of the M65 will involve the coroner asking road authorities why his warnings, after a previous crash related to the switching off of road lighting, was ignored.”
He said the AA advised its members to drive using their full beams on roads where street lights have been switched off, except where they might dazzle other road users.
“Drivers cannot afford the risk of not lighting the road ahead if it might result in killing or injuring pedestrians, cyclists and other vulnerable people,” he added.