Artificial Lighting at Night (ALAN) has been shown to have a negative impact on human health and nocturnal wildlife, leading many people to evaluate how well it fulfils its purpose, and actually contributes to improved public safety. Clear evidence exists showing that better lighting boosts pedestrian comfort and feelings of safety when moving around at night. But there is not enough information out there about what optimal light levels and solutions are necessary to achieve this. Clearly, the future of outdoor public lighting will rely on finding the perfect balance between safe, active travel, energy efficiency and the need for dark skies.
Solareye is a family-owned company passionate about helping businesses and councils cultivate greater pedestrian safety in a low cost, low impact, solar-powered way! We’re one of the UK’s leading suppliers of outdoor solar lighting, combining industry excellence with a drive to be better and minimise our environmental impact.
In this blog, we discuss the arguments surrounding outdoor lighting and public safety, and outline our stance on the issue.
Does better outdoor lighting at night improve public safety?
Opinion differs on the subject of lighting at night and safety. Some evidence shows there to be no correlation between reduced street lighting and increased night-time road collisions or crime. In fact, outdoor lighting that is not properly considered has been shown to negatively impact safety. There are various reasons for this.
Firstly, just as better lighting increases visibility for potential victims of crime, it also improves visibility for potential offenders. They will be better able to spot people at vulnerable moments, determine the value of what they are carrying, and more likely to take the opportunity as a result. Moreover, movement from an area of bright light to an area of darkness can result in temporary blindness and disorientation. This is because the human eye needs time to adapt from photopic to scotopic vision and doesn’t cope well with sudden changes.
On the other hand, others proport that a lack of street lighting does increase a perception risk. One study found that areas with dimmed or switched off streetlights made 52.8% of women feel less safe, and 38.8% of men.
At Solareye, we’ve received plenty of feedback to suggest that outdoor lighting plays a major role in contributing to public safety. One Rugby resident responded to our 2021 installation for the council, saying: “I have felt so much safer walking my dog in the late afternoon since the installation.” Another resident said: “they are not only eco-friendly, and I’m sure a great cost-saving to the council, but at night they look really nice and make you feel safe.”
Clearly, there is a link between feelings of safety and better lighting, it just needs to be implemented in the right way.
Lighting vs. visibility
Glare from lighting at night can actually create hazards by causing visual discomfort and disorientation for drivers. That’s why it’s important to remember when it comes to outdoor lighting that the goal is visibility, not just illumination. Dimmer, layered lighting with less sudden contrast might work best when it comes to safety for drivers, as well as perceived safety for pedestrians.
More than that, targeted lighting that directs light where it is needed will provide the right ground illumination to enable wayfinding, without negatively impacting nocturnal wildlife. What the available research suggests is that outdoor lighting is vitally important, but we need to illuminate better. With proper consideration, we can facilitate safety for our communities in the right way.
How does outdoor lighting improve safety?
At Solareye, we believe outdoor lighting plays a major role in enabling pedestrians and cyclists to move around safely at night. It does this in two major ways.
Lighting that illuminates and delineates the ground plays a huge role in facilitating physical safety for pedestrians and cyclists. Effective pathway lighting allows people to find their way more easily, observe the edge of the path more clearly and avoid potential trip hazards. As a result, they are more likely to be able to navigate successfully and less likely to fall, trip or walk into something that might cause them harm.
Perceived safety or subjective safety is an individual’s perception of their comfort, risk and personal security. Many people report greater feelings of safety when outdoor spaces are well lit at night. Women in particular feel freer to move around when pathways are well lit, particularly when warm colour temperatures are used. This is because they can identify potential risks up ahead of them and determine whether it is okay to carry on.
Perceived safety vs. actual safety
It is generally agreed that whilst actual impact on safety is debatable, outdoor lighting does improve perceived safety. And that doesn’t mean people are unwittingly entering into dangerous situations – far from it! At Solareye, we believe perceived safety contributes to actual safety.
For example, most people given a choice would opt to walk down a well lit pathway than a dark one. That means the lit path will be well used at all times of the day and night, creating a kind of informal, social surveillance. More people will be around to witness a crime taking place, deterring potential offenders. As a result, yet more people will use the path and the community as a whole will grow safer. Lighting may not be the only influencing factor when it comes to safety at night, but it can be the catalyst for its development.
Know a public place that makes you feel unsafe? The UK police are asking people to anonymously inform them of areas where perceived and actual safety needs to be improved. Click here to find out more.
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Solareye has been helping businesses and local authorities create safer public spaces for all since 2008. With an ever-expanding range of products and a commitment to minimising our impact on the environment, we are the obvious choice for anyone who wants to boost outdoor safety without harming local wildlife.
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