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Dark times for drivers

One in three (36%) of the UK’s six million street lights are switched off or dimmed at night

Posted on 25 Jan 2017

New FOI data shows almost 1.5 million street lights are dimmed at night while more than 600,000 are switched off completely.
More than half of councils are planning further switch-off or dimming regimes. (2)
East Anglia has almost two thirds (60%) of its street lights switched off or dimmed – more than any other region.
Over half (51%) of those who drive on unlit roads do not feel safe driving where the lights are switched off.

It is a dark time for drivers across the UK as new research reveals one in three (36%) of the country’s six million street lights are switched off or dimmed at night (1). A gloomy 1.5 million (25%) lights are currently dimmed during the darker hours while a further 600,000 (11%) are turned off completely.

With over half (51%) of those who drive on unlit roads feeling unsafe on streets where the lights are switched off, some may be alarmed to hear that at least 137 councils currently have dimming or switch-off systems in place.

And it doesn’t stop there. The Freedom of Information data, obtained by , the no.1 site for car savings, shows that Britain’s roads are set to be plunged even further into darkness. In fact, more than half (92) of the 180 councils planning future dimming or switch off regimes.

Some corners of the UK are in the shadows more than others. Drivers in East Anglia may notice their streets are the darkest, on average, with almost two thirds (60%) of its lights either dimmed or switched off at night. This is followed by the South West and East Midlands, which both have 56% of their lights dimmed or switched off.


Comparatively, drivers in other regions are basking in the glow of their street lights. As you might expect, roads are at their brightest in the capital where only 14% of the city’s lights are dimmed or turned off. Closely followed by Scotland, which only switches off and dims 16%.

Further research by the no.1 for car savings site highlights that all of this dimming is not going unnoticed by drivers. Of those who drive on dimmed or unlit streets, more than eight in 10 (84%) think the visibility of the road is compromised when the lights are switched off. While just over a quarter (77%) say road visibility is compromised by dimmed conditions.

And the safety of driving on darkened streets is actually a concern for many motorists. Almost two fifths (38%) think unlit or dimmed streets make driving more dangerous. Some fear they will hit something due to poorer visibility, with some even saying they felt vulnerable when driving on darkened roads in case they break down. In fact, more than a third (39%) will go as far as to avoid driving in areas that are in complete darkness or dimly lit. They have even added four miles to their average journey by taking an alternative route to avoid driving in the dark.

Parking is also a concern for those who drive on unlit or dimmed streets. Two in three (64%) do not feel safe parking their cars on roads with no street lighting and almost two fifths (44%) of drivers believe their car is more at risk of being broken into if the lights are dimmed or switched off.

Yet drivers appear to have more than their own safety to worry about. More than a third (34%) of drivers admitted that they have struggled to see pedestrians when street lights have been off, while more than one in 10 (14%) found it hard to see them in dimmed conditions. In fact, some drivers admitted to having near misses with pedestrians due to a lack of street lighting or dimmed lighting, while some say they even know of pedestrian fatalities.

When asked for their opinion on street lighting levels, on average, drivers feel that just over a quarter (26%) of the UK’s street lights should be switched off, compared to the current 36%. In fact, over two fifths (44%) of drivers think more street lights should be switched on to full capacity, compared to 6% who think more lights should be switched off and just over a quarter (27%) who think more street lights should be dimmed.

However, some drivers appear to recognise some of the benefits of turning off and dimming street lights. A fifth (21%) believe turning off or dimming street lights is important for cutting carbon emissions and a further fifth (22%) think it is important for reducing light pollution. While two in five (42%) drivers think it would be safer to dim lights rather than switch them off altogether, some believe that the newer LED-type lighting does not give as bright a glow as other street lighting types. 

When asked why they think councils have started switching off street lights, almost nine in 10 (87%) said they thought it was to save money. While a quarter (22%) believe councils want to cut down on carbon emissions and under a fifth (17%) think it is to cut down on the impact of light pollution.

Amanda Stretton, motoring editor at, says: “While there are a number of cost and carbon saving reasons for councils dimming street lights, the effect is clearly being felt by drivers nationwide.

“With plans for further dimming and switch-off regimes across the country, we would urge motorists to be extra vigilant when driving on lowly lit streets by slowing their speed and keeping an eye out for pedestrians. Pedestrians should also make an effort to wear bright clothing when walking on roads at night, particularly if heading down roads with no street lighting.

“Drivers who have concerns about the safety of parking on shadowy roads can review the security features of car parks up and down the country and book overnight parking using’s parking tool. For tips on driving in the dark, visit our guide. ”


Notes to editors
Unless otherwise stated, all figures taken from omnibus research carried out by One Poll on behalf of This was an online poll of 2,000 UK adults who drive (nationally representative sample). The research was conducted between 29th December 2016 and 5th January 2017.

1. issued a Freedom of Information request to 436 borough, district and city councils. Of these, 180 responded. The request asked the following: 
a. How many street lights is your council currently responsible for?
b. Does your council currently switch-off street lights for the whole time during the night i.e. from last light to first light? If so, how many lights are switched off?
c. Does your council currently switch-off street lights for a period of time during the night i.e. for a set number of hours each night? If so, how many lights are switched off?
d. Does your council currently dim street lights for during the night? If so, how many lights are dimmed?
e. Is your council planning to switch off or dim street lights in the future?

2. 92 councils out of the 180 councils that responded said they have plans for further switch-off and dimming regimes.

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