To light up or not to light up the sky? That is the question.

Most of us have probably been afraid of the dark. Some evolutionary biologists have linked this fear to fear of predators at a time when humans weren’t at the top of the food chain. And this innate anxiety, hard to quantify with the numbers, is likely playing a role in the public’s unwillingness to get rid of street lights.

“You have to take into account the views of the communities,” said Edwards. Without public support, changes simply are not possible. Because at the end of the day, scientists don’t plan cities – government officials, often elected by the people, do.

“In the UK there are people who talk a lot about it, and they would say things like ‘How dare you turn off the lights? We pay our [taxes]! ‘There was even an opposition [when a local township was planning on reducing street lighting] where the community got together and said, “Look, we’ll pay more – how much more do we have to pay to keep our lights on?” Edwards said.

While people may find it difficult to change their preferences for street lighting in their neighborhood, there are other sources of light pollution, such as those along highways and in industrial and commercial buildings, which may be more easy to reduce.

Blinded by the lights

In 2012, the Federal Highway Administration, under the auspices of the US Department of Transportation, issued a update to the 1978 Road Lighting Design Manual. The update included considerations of the negative impact of excessive lighting, while the old approach focused primarily on recommending minimum lighting requirements – for example. For example, the minimum lighting required for a section of road leading to an intersection, taking into account the speed limit and the curvature of the road.

So what does the data say about the correlation between crashes and street lights on highways?

In 1992, the International Commission on Illumination, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Vienna, Austria, released a report that examined 62 studies on lighting and road accidents in 15 countries. While 85% of the studies claimed their data showed that lighting was beneficial for preventing nighttime accidents, only about a third showed statistical significance. Among this third, the reported reduction in accidents varied widely, from 13 to 75%.

How is this huge gap possible? Can’t we just set up an experiment with two identical roads, one with light and one without, and compare the numbers?

In addition to the logistical difficulties and ethical concerns for such an experience, the way of thinking light versus non-light is itself perhaps a false dichotomy, as the effectiveness of street lighting depends on how lights are installed.

“Here’s an example: let’s say you’re driving on the freeway at night, and someone behind you turns on their lights. It’s flashing in your rearview mirror and you’re temporarily blinded,” Mendoza said. “The intention is to have proper lighting, and that we are not discussing or arguing for the removal of all lighting.”

There are cases where reduced lighting can actually improve the intended functionality.

“Sometimes you have a bright street light, then 30 meters down the road is another, but there’s kind of a ‘light hole’ in between where it’s a lot darker and your eyes can’t see. “, did he declare. “If we dimmed those lights, those hollows would feel shallower and your eyes could see better.”

There are also other sources of light besides the streetlights that line our roads, some of which probably do more harm than good in accident prevention.

“One of the biggest dangers is electronic billboards, because they are poorly regulated, if at all. Some of them don’t even have a night mode, which means they are too. bright at night than during the day when they compete with the sun, “says Mendoza. These billboards can be particularly dangerous, for example, when they display a blinding white advertisement right after an advertisement with a darker color palette. “They’re a huge distraction that could be really dangerous.”

Bright nights without sleep

Speaking of distractions, nighttime lighting can also affect sleep and human health.

While people may be more aware of the effects of staring at smartphones and TV screens at night, outdoor lighting can take over people’s bedrooms as well. Growing up, I remember being able to read my comics using the floor lamp shining through my bedroom window, long after my mom turned off the light and told me to go to bed.

The researchers noticed the effect this modern way of life can have on our body, in particular through disruption of our circadian rhythm.

“While it’s hard to prove whether artificial light can directly harm you – it’s not as simple as smoking, for example – it changes your circadian rhythm, which can lead to a wide range of health issues, “said Mendoza.

On the one hand, people with disrupted circadian rhythms often don’t get enough sleep. In 2014, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared sleep deprivation a “public health epidemic, “and some researchers consider it a global epidemic. Lack of sleep has been linked to a variety of health problems, ranging from relatively unsurprising problems such as depression to some forms of cancer and even Alzheimer’s disease.

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