Investigating road lighting and the effects on safety

A major new research project will study how to optimise lighting on main roads to enhance drivers’ abilities to detect potential hazards, therefore reducing the frequency and severity of road traffic collisions at night.


Car on dark road with lighting in backgroundCurrent road lighting guidance does not have a sound basis to allow us to accurately assess if lighting levels are optimal for safe driving on main roads. This new project focuses on reducing accidents that involve pedestrians and will influence national and international guidance for road lighting. The research will substantially extend previous studies on lighting and hazard detection by considering attention and distraction whilst driving and by promoting active aids for pedestrian visibility.

HAROLD (HAzards, ROad Lighting and Driving) will be led by Professor Steve Fotios of the School of Architecture, University of Sheffield, in collaboration with Leeds University, and has been awarded £1.2M funding by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

Professor Fotios said, “Road lighting should provide sufficient light for safe and comfortable driving. There are calls from some interest groups for lower light levels to reduce sky glow and possible harmful effects on the environment. However, we do not fully know the implication of lower light levels for driver safety. HAROLD will contribute by measuring the ability of drivers to detect hazards at different light levels.”

The project will use laboratory trials and driving simulation to identify optimal lighting and the benefits of active visibility aids for hazard detection. The laboratory trials will be conducted at the University of Sheffield using a scale model simulator developed for previous work by Highways England. This will be led by the School of Architecture’s Professor Fotios and Professor Richard Rowe from the Department of Psychology. The simulation trials will be conducted at the Institute for Transport Studies at Leeds University, led by Professor Natasha Merat.

The focus on making roads safer for pedestrians, and other vulnerable road users, contributes to achieving the British Road Safety Statement (Department for Transport. Working Together to Build a Safer Road System, 2015) and extends Professor Fotios’ recent research on lighting for pedestrians – the MERLIN project.

Lighting Research Group

The lighting research group predominantly focuses on the need for, quality, and effect of, artificial light in both interior and exterior contexts. Their work is largely experimental, with studies carried out to better understand what people require, and how they can benefit, from their lit environment

Find out more