Issues in Interdisciplinarity 2020-21/Lights will Guide You Home: The Psychology of Safety versus The Environmental Impact of Light in Cities

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Street lights are a tangible method of restoring a sense of psychological safety for the public in a city. Only a quarter of car travel is taken between the the hours of 19.00 and 08.00 however, over 40% of accidents resulting in severe injury or death occur within this timeframe.[1] A high quantity of these casualties are over the age of 60 and young men. Therefore, lighting in cities could be deemed to improve the driver's view of their environment and help them focus more. In one study, reassurance was the person's perceived safety and fear of crime. Reassurance decreases at night as the decrease of light induces a sense of isolation, ease for the offender to hide and a lacking vision of escape routes. [2] According to Matsui, over 85% of women 'always' fear being a victim of street crime.[3] Men are proportionally less likely to report their concerns surrounding street crime than women, thus, perhaps this silence should encourage cities to put more lighting in places with high levels of street crime. [4] Providing more lighting encourages reassurance of safety for both pedestrians and drivers as they perceive it will cause a decrease in crime consequently making them feel safer. [5]


In a study of 65 people, 15 people have said they have tripped on the streets of London at night. However, only three could remember the exact location and only one person noted the poor lighting of the street as a cause or exacerbation of her imbalance. [6] Therefore, we must question the necessity of lighting public spaces as if it is not adequately improving street crime levels and safety; why should money be spent on the upkeep of the lighting, the building of them and generally wasting resources, energy and causing excessive light pollution?

  1. Fotios, S; Unwin, J; Farrall, S; (2015) Road lighting and pedestrian reassurance after dark: A review. Lighting Research & Technology , 47 (4) pp. 449-469. 10.1177/1477153514524587.
  2. Dravitzki VK, Cleland BS, Walton D, Laing JN. Measuring commuting pedestrians’ concerns for personal safety and the influence of lighting on these concerns: Proceedings of the 26th Australasian Transport Research Forum, Wellington, New Zealand, Oct 1–3: 2003.
  3. Matsui T. A study on a street lighting that makes change illuminance is effective for both reducing fear of crime and saving energy: 26th Session of the CIE,Beijing, Jul 4–11: 2007:D5-112 – D5-115.
  4. Sutton RM, Farrall S. Gender, socially desirable responding and the fear of crime. British Journal of Criminology 2005; 45: 212–224.
  5. Unwin, J. and Fotios, S. (2011) Does lighting contribute to the reassurance of pedestrians at night-time in residential roads? Ingineria Iluminatului, 2 (13). 29 - 44. ISSN 1454-5837
  6. Unwin, J; Thomas, RV; Raynham, P; Durante, A; (2017) Is Lighting the Pavement Important? In: 29th CIE Session Proceedings. (pp. pp. 1103-1108). CIE (International Commission on Illumination): Vienna, Austria