Driving at night is almost three times more dangerous in New Zealand than in other developed countries because of our poor street lighting, new research says.
A paper that will be presented at the Australasian Road Safety Research, Policing and Education Conference in Wellington today says brightening our streets with more-luminous LED lights could reduce after-dark road deaths and injuries by 35 per cent.
Godfrey Bridger, who co-wrote the paper with fellow independent lighting consultant Bryan King, said that would save 61 lives and prevent 1538 injuries, based on 2010 figures.
“The risk of death and injury from driving at night in New Zealand is 5.8 times greater than during daytime, in contrast to international experience, which shows it is only twice the risk,” he said.
“There's also the enormous saving in human suffering and misery which isn't captured in these statistics. A national road lighting upgrade is a no-brainer.”
Doing so would cost about $700 million and substantially reduce the estimated $1.2 billion annual cost of night-time road deaths and injuries, Mr Bridger said.
The New Zealand Transport Agency said it had done a preliminary review of Mr Bridger's findings and agreed the night-time crash risk was greater than in other countries.
But the agency's chief adviser of safety directions, Lisa Rossiter, said street-lighting standards were not the main reason.
"Our highway networks are fundamentally different than many overseas jurisdictions: our topography is more challenging, and we have higher rates of drink-driving than many other countries, with most drink-driving crashes occurring at night."
Improving lighting at specific crash sites or high-risk routes represented better value for money than an entire network upgrade.
Mr Bridger said the problems in New Zealand were largely down to low government standards. Our highways were lit to only three-quarters of the levels in Europe and the United States, while residential streets had as little as a quarter of the light levels in other developed countries.
The standards excluded the use of light emitting diodes (LEDs), and failed to recognise the eye was more sensitive to the "white" light they produced, compared to the low-intensity "yellow" light used at present, he said.
Associate Transport Minister Simon Bridges said street lighting standards were under review.
From 2006-10, 57,551 crashes occurred on our roads and 18,437 of them, or 32 per cent, were during the time when road lighting is normally switched on.
10,794 crashes happened at places where the street lights were working.
1240 of the injuries that occurred during darkness happened at places where existing street lights were off.
- © Fairfax NZ News