Saving Time, Saving Light, Saving Lives? Smart Cities and the Clock Change Debate

István Laskai - Business Segment Manager Road - Schréder
István Laskai
Road Business Segment Manager

As the leaves turn gold and yellow, the nights get longer, and talk turns to Halloween, the end of year celebrations and beyond, much of the world engages in an annual debate about Daylight Saving Time (DST). In 2022, clocks “go back” an hour on 29th October in most of Europe, 6th November in the US, while Russia and China abolished DST years ago. 

Moving clocks forward an hour in spring and back an hour in autumn is far from universally popular. Proposed in the 19th century by luminaries including Benjamin Franklin and the great-great-grandfather of the singer from Coldplay (no, really), it was a way to extend the working day for many people, especially those who work outdoors.

Now, there are calls to abolish it: according to research by the UK’s RAC Foundation, in the two weeks after the October clock change, there’s a marked increase in road crashes where someone is hurt. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents says that in addition to road safety concerns, the change should be scrapped because of its impact on hospitality and leisure businesses, the tourism industry in general, and people’s mental health and well-being

The debate has even reached the European Parliament, which voted to abolish changing clocks twice a year in 2018 before these proposals got put on the back burner by the pandemic and Brexit. At Schréder, we don’t have a view on the rights and wrongs of the daylight-saving debate: we just want to help our customers have safer streets, for everyone, all year round.

From Schedules to Sensors

Most street lighting systems in the Northern Hemisphere are currently controlled by calendars set by national authorities, which change twice a year to reflect longer nights in winter and longer days in summer. Set centrally, these calendars struggle to take account of the regional differences (London gets more daylight than the Scottish Highlands in winter, for example, though they’re both in the same time zone), changes in weather and differences in traffic. 

Eurostat figures show that morning and evenings are a particularly dangerous time for road fatalities, which is probably related to commuting. Up to two times more pedestrians are killed on the road during the winter months than between March and June, and more pedestrians are killed on urban roads. Dark lighting conditions make pedestrians less visible to other road users, resulting in more frequent and serious pedestrian crashes.

During the working week, a stronger morning and evening peak is observed than for all road fatalities combined.

European Road Safety Observatory

A truly smart city will change that, with sensors that activate street lighting when it gets dark - no matter what time it is. Daylight sensors can ensure that lighting comes on in the right place, at the right time, minutes earlier or later each day as necessary, instead of relying on two big changes every year. That also means it can come on when skies are dark because of adverse weather conditions. 

Update lighting Four Times an Hour, Not Twice a Year

Brussels’ Bois de la Cambre is an ideal testbed for innovative lighting. This large urban park to the south of Brussels is a major artery into the city for cars, buses, cyclists and pedestrians. In spring 2021, we ran an experiment with Sibelga, which manages the city’s facilities. The light output of the 72 LED luminaires which line the road was adjusted based on real-time data instead of a predefined schedule.

The street lights in Bois de la Cambre are dimmed to 50% when there is less traffic on the roads

Three types of data were collected: weather, traffic and location of pedestrian crossings, and used to calculate the optimal lighting levels of each light point. If necessary, the lighting was adapted every 15 minutes to reflect real-time conditions. It was automatically reduced when the traffic density was low and the weather conditions were good. If it was raining or if there were strong winds (which could blow branches onto the road), the lighting level did not decrease. Pedestrian crossings remained at 100% throughout - and the additional energy savings were impressive.

Smart city infrastructure, which puts the customer in charge with truly interoperable systems, means watching the sky, not the clock. Schréder has a vast range of urban and motorway lighting solutions which can be coupled with our own, or external, management systems to create truly smart solutions for roads everywhere.

Read more about this pilot project

The Right Light, All Year Round

In Portugal’s stunning Algarve region, Portimão is a city that welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors during the tourist season. Its streets and roads are extremely busy throughout the summer, while things are quieter in winter. To ensure the safety and well-being of citizens and visitors alike, the city invested in making its road crossings safer.

Smart lighting system has enabled the city of Portimao to improve safety on its roads during the hours of darkness

They worked without engineers to choose a NEOS lighting system, which integrates lenses to ensure that the pedestrian crossings in the city are distinguishable and can be clearly seen from a distance, pedestrians are highly visible and glare is minimised for drivers. It delivers the necessary vertical levels to ensure a sharp contrast with the lighting nearby and the horizontal levels for uniformity on the road. 

One of the joys of visiting Portimão is taking time to unwind, and not watching the clock. Smart cities, with sensors to control street lighting, can ensure that their lighting does that too. Whether or not your country has daylight saving time, it makes sense to think about how roads can be lit safely every day of the year - something Schréder has been doing for over a century.

About the writer
István's 25-year career spans sales, marketing, product development and lighting education. With his passion for understanding customer’s needs, he has acquired a depth and breadth of experience in road and urban lighting across Europe. He joined Schréder in 2016 and now drives product development in road lighting with cutting-edge technology to anticipate and address our customers challenges.

Connect with István on LinkedIn or send him an e-mail