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Home Studies Corona and nitrogen delays cause more traffic accidents

Corona and nitrogen delays cause more traffic accidents

Nov. 26, 2021
3 min reading time

Since the spring of 2013, the lights along Dutch highways have been turned off between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.. This decision was introduced because it would be better for nature, animals and the environment. However, not everyone agrees with this measure. A common argument is that unlit roads are more dangerous and cause more accidents. For the sake of road safety, it was therefore decided in 2019 to turn the lights along highways back on at night. This is because figures also show that unlit highways cause more traffic accidents. However, Corona will ensure that the highways remain unlit for some time.

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Road fatalities up in recent years

CBS figures show that the number of traffic fatalities has been rising in recent years. However, it is not clear whether this increase is also attributable to unlit highways. We do know that one out of every three fatal traffic accidents in recent years occurred on highways. Those were about 72 accidents a year, 40 percent of which occurred at dusk or darkness. Half of those were without lights. So that's at least 15 deaths. Good lighting could make the difference there, according to SWOV, the Institute for Scientific Research on Traffic Safety, who have conducted research on the importance of good lighting for road safety.

Source: CBS
Traffic accident fatalities in the Netherlands (2014 - 2020)
2014 570
2015 621
2016 629
2017 613
2018 678
2019 661
2020 610

Switching off lights highways causes more injury accidents and eye damage

An international meta-analysis conducted by SWOV shows that turning off lights on highways is associated with an increase of about 17% in injury crashes and 27% in crashes with only eye damage.

50% fewer injury accidents due to public lighting

According to SWOV, injury rates are 50% less after installing public lighting. This is not just about lighting along highways, but on all types of roads. It is important to mention that the effect of good lighting is often attenuated because people tend to behave less safely when road conditions are good, which we call behavioral compensation. Still, the net effect is very positive according to SWOV. Overall, there are about 13% fewer accidents on highways with lighting at night.

Lights come back on, but corona causes delay

Because the research shows that lighting along highways improves road safety and its perception, Minister van Nieuwenhuizen decided to reverse the decision in 2019. So the lighting along highways will go back on. Along 80 kilometers of freeway this has already happened, but there are still 550 kilometers of freeway unlit. This is because the Nature Protection Act must be taken into account. This act prohibits activities that lead to the deliberate disturbance of protected species and/or damage their resting places. Rijkswaterstaat will investigate where there are so-called bottlenecks. However, due to both the corona crisis and the issues surrounding nitrogen, this study has been delayed. Therefore, the lighting along these parts of the highway is still off for the time being.

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