Plans to switch off traffic lights on the M1 between Luton and Milton Keynes has been met with concern from motoring bodies who are worried about the safety issues it could create.
The Department of Transport is looking to save money by switching the lights off between midnight and 5am as part of its contribution to the Government’s austerity programme.
The move to turn lights off in various areas on Britain’s motorway network was an idea put forward from the public after the Coalition asked for money-saving ideas.
According to the Highways Agency, currently under half the 1800 miles of motorways in England are lit.
However, motoring organisations are worried about the choice of this 15-mile stretch, as plans are underway to also turn it into a managed motorway with variable speed limits, where the use of the hard shoulder at busy times.
A spokesman said, “Where you can and can’t be is defined by signals and without lights there is a greater chance that people will make a mistake.”
Brake, the road safety charity, also voiced concern, "Road casualties are not only catastrophic for the families involved, but a huge economic burden, so if there is a safety implication of turning lights off it could turn out to be a false economy as well as a desperately inhumane experiment."
Turning off lights has been successfully trialled already in parts of the country with the Department for Transport keen to save on running costs. The M2, M4, M5 and M27 have all been plunged into darkness to save money, whilst also having a beneficial impact on the environment.
The initiative has also been trialled on roads by local authorities, although the results haven’t been as successful.
Powys Council in Wales was forced to ditch its experiment of turning off more than half its 1,400 lights off at night to save £225,000 a year after a wave of protests.
Elsewhere many local councils have opted for installing equipment which dims lights rather than switching them off altogether.
Derek Turner, the Highways Agency director, defended the move and insisted motorists would not be put at risk. “The money saved could be used for other measures on the strategic road network where it would have a more significant safety benefit and potentially save more lives.”
By Ben Malkin
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