Speed limit question over lights plan

A CASH-SAVING move to switch off streetlights for part of the night in Essex could render some 30mph speed limits in built up areas null and void, it has been claimed.

By Roddy Ashworth

A CASH-SAVING move to switch off streetlights for part of the night in Essex could render some 30mph speed limits in built up areas null and void, it has been claimed.

And now police have referred queries to lawyers about whether they would have the power to prosecute motorists for speeding if plans for turning off the lights go ahead.

Rodney Bass, Essex County Council's cabinet member for highways, proposed in July that much of the county's street-lighting should be switched off between 12am and 5am every night.


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The move would not only save council electricity bills, which have risen sharply in recent years, but would also help its commitment to cutting carbon emissions.

The plan is currently subject to a period of consultation that is due to end on Monday.

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However it has already been met with a raft of objections from across the county including many from the Uttlesford district, which along with the Maldon area has been earmarked to pilot the scheme.

Queries about the validity of 30mph limits in unlit areas stem from the Road Traffic Regulations Act of 1984, which stipulates that the limit automatically applies where streetlights are less than 200 yards apart.

However, it is not clear whether the law would apply if the streetlights were not turned on and now Essex Police has asked the county council's legal department to clarify the matter.

The switch-off could potentially mean that roads in built up areas normally covered by a 30mph restriction would default to an unrestricted 60mph limit.

Yesterday Dave Coatham, technical service manager of the Institute of Lighting Engineers, said: “In principle, if you have street lighting provided within a certain spacing and other criteria are met, such as housing, there is automatically a speed limit imposed.

“The question is, if the street lighting is turned off for part of the night, does that mean the 30mph limit is still applicable?

“Bluntly, I think that this could only really be established in a court of law after somebody is caught and decides to test it.”

Yesterday Mr Bass said he did not see the possible legal problem as insurmountable.

“This sort of thing is what the consultation period is all about - to thrash these issues out.

“My legal advisers say it is a very interesting point. However, there are a number of options. One would be to abort the idea while this whole problem is resolved.

“Another would be to introduce a traffic regulation order, which would have to be accompanied by repeater signs, and that is not such a difficult thing to do.

“Also, every local authority has a duty to review all of its speed limits between now and 2011 and it is possible that could be accelerated, and we could regulate then.”

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