Nobody knows if Sir Edward Grey actually said, “The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our time.” He might have said “lights”, or “in our lifetime”. According to his memoirs he was looking out of a Whitehall window, on 3 August 1914, at a lamplighter on his rounds. As foreign secretary on the eve of the First World War he might have been more explicit. We’ll never know.
Now the lights are going out again. It’s getting on for a hundred years since Grey and once more we are into collective madness. It’s not the eve of war, but there are sure to be casualties. Lights on motorways, main roads, and town centres are being turned off to meet carbon emission targets. The M1 between Luton and Milton Keynes will have no lights from midnight until 5 in the morning. Street lights on pavements and cycleways, in city centres and residential streets will be dimmed or darkened to whoops of joy from footpads and burglars. There will be slips and falls by the infirm or unwary. To some, unlit streets will represent a curfew. An official wrote patronisingly to a complainant; the council, apparently, could not “provide tailored street lighting for each individual’s particular needs”.
The new black-out worries safety and motoring organisations, which say economic and environmental benefits are over-stated, warning that less street lighting will lead to more accidents and more crime. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (Rospa) said: “The presence of lighting not only reduces the risk of traffic accidents but also their severity. Surveys show that the public is in favour of street lighting as a way of improving road safety and that, if anything, it needs to be improved.”
Paul McClenaghan, commercial director at Halfords, said: “Poor lighting or none at all can make it very difficult for motorists to see hazards or objects clearly at night. Added to this Government figures show that road accidents increase in the week after the clocks change, so it is clear that extra vigilance is needed at this time of the year, from motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.” Paul Watters, head of roads policy at the AA, told The Daily Telegraph: “We do know that most accidents happen in the dark, it’s also comforting for people, especially if they arrive back from somewhere in the night, when they have got a late train. There are suggestions that it increases crime. Motorway drivers don’t like changing situations, from light to dark and dark to light, but I don’t think we would argue for no lighting at all. It is extremely comforting for drivers, especially in bad weather.”
Switching-off motorway lights means that 70 per cent of the network is now unlit. Sections of the M1, M2, M27, M4, M48, M5, M54, M58, M6, M65 and M66 are now unlit from midnight. (top) Bugatti Royale 41.111 with designer Jean Bugatti. French textile manufacturer Armand Esders ordered it without headlamps. He did not intend driving it at night on roads lit or unlit.