News, Transport

Lighting is ‘no magic bullet’ for suicides, say police

Blue light use at London Gatwick Airport railway station. Reductions of crime and suicides have been reported in some cases, but it is no ‘magic bullet’ says Mark Stokes of the British Transport Police.

THE USE of coloured lighting to deter social ills such as crime, suicides and anti-social behaviour is no magic bullet, says a senior police officer with expertise in the area.

Mark Stokes, crime reduction supervisor with the British Transport Police, says lighting is a deterrent to criminal behaviour but the evidence linking it to major reductions in crime or suicides is inconclusive.

‘The only problem [with the use of coloured light] is that the research to back this up is somewhat suspect, to say the least,’ says Mark Stokes of the British Transport Police

Stokes has recently returned from a research assessment of the deployment of blue light luminaires on the Japanese railway system. There, it has been associated with a steep fall in suicides on station platforms in Tokyo. The idea has been copied around the world, notably at the railway station at Gatwick Airport in the south of England.

‘The theory behind it is that blue light has a calming effect and is associated with the emergency services,’ said Stokes. ‘It causes people to think again and not take their own lives by throwing themselves in front a moving train.

‘The only problem is that the research to back this up is somewhat suspect, to say the least. It’s used on the basis of hope and expectation rather than any real evidence to support it.


‘The stations on the Yamanote Line that have got blue light have also now got physical platform barriers’.

‘We have approximately 300 full suicides on the UK rail system every year. On a pro-rata basis, only Japan has a worse problem than we have.’ Speaking at LuxLive 2017 in London, Stokes said that by designing out opportunities for passengers to take their own lives, suicides were reduced by 10 per cent last year.

Blue LED lights on the platforms at the railway station at London Gatwick Airport in the south of England. They are designed to deter suicides, but the evidence supporting their use is ‘inconclusive’, says Stokes.

‘If you remove the opportunity for crime, you remove the opportunities for suicides as well.

‘We know that lighting is a deterrent to criminal behaviour more so, than example, than closed circuit television but what I would say is that it’s not the magic bullet cure. The same way that 25 years ago people in Great Britain and Northern Ireland thought that CCTV was going to be the magic bullet cure. Neither is lighting.

The use of blue light to prevent intravenous drug use in public spaces such as toilets has been widespread in the UK and the US.

‘The theory is that drug addicts can’t locate their veins accurately. However, its effectiveness has long been questioned, as there’s evidence they simply use an alternative light source such as lighters or phones, or mark their veins before entering the space.

‘Examples like blue light [for the prevention of suicide and intravenous drug use] and pink light, which is used to show acne on teenage faces and stop them congregating, these things get a currency and get copied throughout the world and it takes some time before people say, actually, they don’t work.’