It goes without saying that this is primarily a cost-cutting measure, estimated to save in the region of £70,000 per year. A few people didn’t like the idea, a few thought crime and road accidents would increase. In fact, when the scheme was trialled in one area, crime rates didn’t change. But, you know, fair enough, people are always worried about the impact of change and we have a right to question decisions made by our elected leaders.
Fast forward to this year when the lights went out. It was as though armageddon had arrived, to be closely followed by anarchy, chaos and probably a zombie apocalypse. Facebook campaigns have been set up, the local newspaper’s website has dozens of comments from people who are behaving as though the county’s criminals have been lying in wait for the stroke of midnight, and the sense of outrage is palpable.
One commenter believes that anyone supporting the switch off must be male and have no care for the safety of women, another firmly believes rape will skyrocket. To a person, they think burglary will increase. Someone’s sister nearly bumped into another pedestrian in the street, another saw a car nearly crash. Another thinks it’s weird and dangerous to not have street lighting and drivers may be confused by it. A whole load of people have started taking pictures of their street after midnight to demonstrate how dark it is (yes, this is just as moronic as it sounds). Oh, and someone thinks that campaigners should appeal to the EU claiming that the switch off is a breach of our human rights. Clue: it isn’t.
The level of hysteria over the scheme is so out of proportion it’s bordering parody. The last time I checked, pedestrians had eyes, cars had headlights, some motorways and rural areas have never had street lighting and criminals can and do work under any lighting conditions. According to the Office of National Statistic (ONS), in 2012/13, 25% of burglaries happened between midday and 6pm while 24% happened between midnight and 6am. I don’t even need to go looking for statistics on rape to point out the rarity of cases where someone was dragged off a street or the difference that the presence of street lighting might make to that. The biggest threat from burglars and rapists is the police’s unwillingness to investigate and their willingness to misrecord crimes to make their statistics look better.
The single valid objection I’ve seen against the switch off is the poor state of a lot of pavements. Since starting running, I can attest to maintaining a vaguely paranoid fear of twisting my ankle on a patch of jutting tarmac. And since I have to run mostly at night I spend a lot of time looking at the ground. But if someone can’t drive on an unlit road at night even with their headlights on without becoming confused then I’d seriously question whether they should even be on the roads.
Just in case anyone thought that whole towns have been plunged into darkness, they haven’t. Town centres, key routes and accident blackspots have remained lit. So if you live in one of those areas and have a street light shining into your bedroom then unlucky. Otherwise, you can get to enjoy a night sky with significantly less of the tangerine glow. And I for one am pleased about it.