Lighting, Crime & Safety

“Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;
I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.”
― Sarah Williams, Twilight Hours: A Legacy of Verse

Brighter does not mean safer

  • Outdoor lighting is intended to enhance safety and security at night, but too much lighting can actually have the opposite effect.
  • Visibility should always be the goal
  • Glare from bright, unshielded lights actually decreases safety. It shines into our eyes, constricting our pupils. This
    BareLightbulb grant rambojun
    Credit:  Grant Rambojun
     diminishes the ability of our eyes to adapt to low-light conditions.

Imagine an evening at home with no shades on your indoor lighting. It would be very uncomfortable and harsh. This is what happens at night when we walk or drive in areas with bright, unshielded lighting. For example, motorists can be temporarily blinded by the glare of bright, unshielded lights. The problem becomes even more acute for older drivers. 


Let’s have real security, not just bad lighting

There is no clear scientific evidence that increased outdoor lighting deters crimes. It may make us feel safer, but has not been shown to make us safer.

According to a 2011 study of London street lighting and crime, there is “no good evidence for lighting benefit in reducing total crime.” A 1997 National Institute of Justice study concluded, “We can have very little confidence that improved lighting prevents crime”

The truth is bad outdoor lighting can decrease safety by making victims and property easier to see. A 2000 study done by the City of Chicago showed a correlation between brightly lit alleyways and increased crime.


Glare ex Before   Glare ex After

As shown in these photos, glare from bright lighting creates shadows where criminals can hide.


In fact, most violent crime occurs in the light of the day by known attackers. And some crimes like vandalism and graffiti actually thrive on night lighting.

A dark sky does not necessarily mean a dark ground. Smart lighting that directs light where it is needed creates a balance between safety and starlight.


Good Lighting Neighborhood Richardson
Quality outdoor lighting design (above) allows pedestrians to see the ground and the natural night sky. Photo credit: Jim Richardson





In the following two videos, Kevin Poe, Dark Sky Ranger and IDA Dark Sky Ambassador, demonstrates how bad lighting compromises security. 

Watch lighting engineer Nancy Clanton discuss her surprising research results: less outdoor light improves nighttime visibility for motorists.


Recent news highlights on lighting crime, and safety

Writing for the Dark Skies Awareness blog, David Fuller, argues for full-moon level writing and addresses our fear of the dark. Read more.

Street Lights and Crime: A Seemingly Endless Debate
If you live in a city and walk alone at night, you probably prefer routes that are well-lit over ones that aren't. The same surely holds true even if you live in a more suburban area. Associating light with safety a universal feeling. Read more.

The tension between nighttime lighting and public safety
An editorial by Paul Bogard, author of the End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light, on the University of Minnesota’s plans to install brighter lights in response to the recent crime wave on the Twin Cities campus. Read more.

Braintree district (UK): No crime increase due to light switch-off, say police
Crime levels have shown no signs of increasing in the first month of an overnight street light switch-off, according to police. Read more.

Lights switch-off in Maldon district (UK) has never been an issue, say police
Police have never raised any issues about crime connected to streetlights being switched off at night in the Maldon district. Read more