Dr. Ronald Gibbons, Director, Centre for Infrastructure Based Safety Systems (CIBSS) at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and Fellow of the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America, says, adaptive lighting is the next big thing for roadway lighting.
Is there any research at all to show a direct link between lighting and road safety?
There´s been a significant amount of research in that area. My own work shows there´s a direct link between crash safety and lighting levels as well as between the amount of lighting on the roadway and safety. There´s a point where there is not enough light and that leads to increasing crashes; there´s also a point where there is too much light and you have the same level of crashes. What we´re looking to do is find that mid-point.
Is there any research also to show that night-time accidents are probably more severe?
What we do know is that there are a number of run-off road accidents (where a vehicle leaves the road). There are also a number of crashes with pedestrians and with animals where a car strikes the person or the animal, and there has been an increase in these types of crashes during the night. The interesting thing is lighting influences the pedestrian and animal types of crashes but not the run-off road type of crash.
Are countries looking at lighting and visibility of their roadways from a scientific viewpoint?
The revolution we´ve had in the recent past is the LED lighting that´s replacing traditional lighting. This is leading to significant energy savings. What´s happening in the developed countries is we´ve had traditional light sources for a long time and we´re now replacing these with new technologies. In contrast, in the developing countries, they´re going straight to the new technology and already getting the benefits of this which is significant.
What are these new technologies, apart from LED?
There´s broadly two categories. The first is LED lighting. The second is this whole series you could broadly refer to as Controls. What they do is allow us to switch the lights on or off. They also allow us to dim the lights instead of only being able to switch them on or off and we can actually modify the light output based on the time of day. We can also link the systems together so that the lights can be turned on simultaneously on two different roadways, for instance. This is basically adaptive lighting where if a particular road condition requires more lighting because of more traffic or more numbers of pedestrians, we can turn up the lighting. At night, when the flow of traffic subsides and when pedestrians go home, we can then turn it down. The system needs a central control centre for it to be able to function effectively. However, there will be a time when they can run on wired or wireless networks and there probably won´t be a need for a separate control centre in the future. It will probably be more intuitive and smart but there´s still some time before we get there!
What are some highlights of the work you´ve done and which is particularly relevant for middle and low-income countries like India?
A lot of my work is on adaptive lighting. We now have an approach how to select the right lighting level based on all the roadway characteristics. This work was done based on some crash test work done in the US and Canada and needs to be modified for India or Asia to account for the differences in the nature of roadways. We also have a new approach to measuring roadway lighting. For instance, with respect to measuring lights from a moving vehicle, we´re trying to look at lighting from a more holistic viewpoint of the roadway. If there are lights from a building that´s lighting up a stretch of road, we´ll include it in our measurement and adjust the road lighting. We´re looking at the overall view of the roadway to put out just the right amount of light required rather than doing rule-of-thumb lighting. This is important and has a direct bearing on safety levels.
Rouhan Sharma with inputs from Manish Pant