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Street lighting

Using street lighting to prevent violence.

Estimated impact on violent crime:

NO EFFECT

Evidence quality:

1 2 3 4 5

Cost:

1 2 3

Prevention Type

  • Primary

Setting

  • Community

Themes

  • Neighbourhood

What is it?

This page summarises the research on improving lighting on the street, in alleyways, or in other public places. Given that street lighting is already widespread, improvements to lighting typically focus on increasing the brightness of lights rather than installing new lights.

There are several potential ways in which improving lighting could reduce crime and violence:

  1. By increasing visibility it could increase the perceived risk of being caught and act as a deterrent. It could also encourage more people to use the area which could increase the deterrence effect as well as reporting of crime to the police.
  2. Improvements in streetlighting may also indicate investment in the local area, and impact on community pride and a sense of community ownership. This may change local community behaviours and lead to other local improvements and initiatives that may impact on crime. This theory suggests that improved streetlighting might reduce crime during both the day and night.
  3. Other crime prevention initiatives, such as CCTV, may also benefit from improved streetlighting.

There are concerns about some potential adverse effects of improved streetlighting. These include potential increases in drug-dealing in better-lit public spaces, harmful effects of light pollution on nocturnal wildlife, and increased energy use.

Is it effective?

On average, streetlighting has no effect on violent crime.

The international research suggests that, on average, streetlighting has a low impact on crime, reducing offending by 11%.

Research focused on crime in the UK suggests that streetlighting may have a moderate impact on crime, reducing offending by 15%.  

The research shows that crime is reduced during both daylight hours and at night, suggesting that improved street lighting can change community behaviours during the day and can be an effective deterrent after dark.

How secure is the evidence?

We have low confidence in our estimate of the average impact on violent crime.

The estimate is based on a review of 13 studies.

We have low confidence in this estimate for three reasons. Firstly, because there is a lot of variation in the findings of the studies in the review. Secondly, the studies did not directly measure the impacts of streetlighting for children and young people alone. They reported the impact on children and adults combined, and we have used these results to estimate the impact for children and young people.

We found 6 studies looking at the impact of streetlighting on overall crime in the UK.

How can you implement it well?

The level of lighting required to ensure a place is well-lit differs between places. Using specific criteria about lighting requirements can ensure that the most appropriate level of lighting is provided. For example, you may need to consider the angle and position of lights, and account for the surface area that can impact upon light distribution.

How much does it cost?

Improving streetlighting is likely to be low cost.

Using streetlighting to prevent crime usually does not involve installation of new streetlights, but instead involves increasing the brightness of existing lights. The running cost of a typical streetlight during the night over the course of one year is around £80.

Topic summary

  • Improvements to streetlighting aim to increase visibility, deter crime and improve feelings of safety.
  • On average, streetlighting has no effect on violence. However, we have low confidence in this impact estimate.
  • Research focused on crime in the UK suggests that streetlighting may reduce crime by 15%. 
  • The levels of lighting required to improve visibility will differ between locations, and this should be properly assessed to ensure it is appropriate and efficient.

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