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Streets and roadways   8 May 2024

 

How solar streetlights benefit rural communities

 

Single-lane roundabout with Sol EverGen light highlighted in the middle

 

Whether for healthcare, education, or infrastructure, rural communities in the U.S. consistently receive less funding than those in urban areas. While this makes a certain amount of sense (fewer people living in rural areas means fewer people needing to access services), underinvestment greatly reduced health outcomes, educational attainment, and safety.

 

This is particularly evident on rural roads, which account for nearly half (85,000) of all fatal crashes—even though just 19% of the U.S. population lives in a rural area. In 2020, the risk of dying in a crash was 62% higher on a rural road compared to an urban road for the same trip length.

 

While a variety of factors contribute to the high rate of fatal and serious injury crashes on rural roads, a big part of the problem is inadequate lighting—especially at intersections. Adding roadway lighting has been found to significantly improve nighttime visibility and reduce crash rates, while solar-powered lights confer unique advantages for remote, off-grid locations.

 

Aerial view of an empty rural intersection surrounded by fields

 

The challenge of rural intersection lighting

 

With more than 6 million miles of rural roads in the U.S., the prospect of adding lighting everywhere it’s needed is daunting to say the least. Traditional roadway lighting requires a connection to an electrical grid, and with rural roads generally located a great distance from cities, towns, and electrical infrastructure, it can be extremely difficult (not to mention expensive) to run the miles and miles of wiring required to power new lights.

 

Fortunately, lighting is not required on every mile of rural roadway.  More than 50% of all traffic fatalities in the U.S. occur at or near intersections. When you look only at rural statistics, more than 80% occur at unsignalized intersections (locations where two roads meet but no traffic signal is present). Prioritizing these high-risk locations for lighting upgrades is the best way to ensure efforts yield the greatest benefit.

 

The benefits of lighting rural intersections

 

Although cars possess headlights that theoretically provide ample visibility for drivers, roadway lights far surpass their output, providing bright, uniform light on the entire roadway, including the shoulder, median, and hidden intersections. According to researchers at MnDOT, “The application of roadway lighting at various intersection locations can provide visual benefits for drivers beyond headlights, as they navigate critical visual information in the dark and during the day a light pole can help delineate the intersection.”

 

The same research team found that installing even a single overhead light at a rural intersection can reduce the number of nighttime collisions. They found that “increasing horizontal illuminance by 1 lux reduced the nighttime crash rate by 20 percent, while a 1-lux increase in horizontal illuminance at previously unlit intersections reduced the rate of nighttime crashes by 94 percent.”

 

A line of Sol's black Maxi-4 roadways lights displayed against a yellow background

 

Overcoming barriers with solar lighting solutions

 

With results like these, it’s clear that lighting is a highly effective and necessary safety countermeasure, but traditional lighting is often not practical or feasible for rural roads and communities. Their high cost and reliance on the grid present several logistical and budgetary restrictions.

However, solar lighting doesn’t have these issues. Solar-powered lights create their own energy, independent of the grid. That means installation is simpler, maintenance is greatly reduced, and—here’s the big one—no more utility bills to pay. Ever.

 

Sol’s roadway lighting products also have optional safety features that make them an attractive choice for rural communities. Breakaway anchor bolts, specifically designed to break if tampered with, make theft nearly impossible, which is important in isolated areas. Special poles can be used that are designed to mitigate collision risks by crumbling under high impact so that drivers are at a much lower risk of severe injury if they happen to hit the pole.

 

Roundabout in Oklahoma with yield signs and Sol's EverGen lights

 

Past Success With Solar Lighting at a Rural Intersection

 

A historically dangerous and crash-prone two-way stop in Kansas, OK was transformed into a much safer roundabout with the help of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and Sol’s solar lighting. Read the full case study and learn how Sol’s reliable solar street lights improved the safety of a local community on a tight budget.

Other news articles you might be interested in

ODOT’s Journey to Safer Roads with Sol

Leveraging the enhanced Investment Tax Credit (ITC) to reduce the cost of solar lighting

Using solar lighting to enhance safety and security at electric vehicle charging stations

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