OPINION: Can LED Save Lives on Uganda’s Roads?


Uganda’s road death rate is among the highest in the world. Could improve lighting on Uganda’s busiest roads improve this untenable situation? Should Uganda consider replacing traditional street lighting methods with LED systems?

Many people ask ‘What is LED?’ or ‘What does LED mean?’. Think of LED as the ‘light bulb’ of the future. The letters LED stand for ‘light-emitting diode’. In the simplest terms, generic it is a semi-conductor device emitting light when an electric current passes through it.

Scientists began developing LED technology in the 1920s, but it is in the last fifteen years or so that this technology has rapidly developed in sync with worldwide demand. LED lights are well suited to a number of indoor and outdoor applications, including industrial, maritime, aviation, car headlights, traffic signals and a wide range of high-profile, large-scale lighting projects.

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LED systems have significant advantages. A high level of illumination is possible, ideal for street lighting, along with lower operating costs, because a much lower voltage is required. LEDs are robust and difficult to damage, unlike their more fragile traditional counterparts, and this, again, saves money – and time – on maintenance and repairs.

They are ‘long-life’ and extremely reliable under all weather conditions, emitting a much cooler light than other bulbs, thus reducing heat discharge into the atmosphere. Also, LEDs are easy to control, digitally or automatically, allowing for efficient and flexible usage. Conveniently, they don’t ‘blow’ on expiration, but gradually fade, allowing time for replacement. All in all, LEDs are considered safe under all conditions of reasonable use.

While LED systems seem ideal, not everyone is a fan, and some health issues have been raised. With specific regard to road safety, some sources indicate that glare could be a problem for drivers. On the other hand, it is generally agreed that the superior quality of illumination allows the driver to more easily see a moving object in his or her path. Better lights surely equal better roads.

From an environmental point of view, some entomologists have expressed concerns about disruption to insect populations. Insects are attracted by the light source emitted by an LED, yet not driven away by excessive heat. Light pollution is another problem, given the high levels of brightness. Another disadvantage in cold climates is that, because of low heat emissions, snow can gather on outdoor LEDs, causing dangerous situations when the light is obscured. This is not likely to happen in Uganda though, sitting as it does so close to the equator!

What about the cost of installing LED lighting across a country the size of Uganda? Upfront costs are high, but operating costs for this reliable, economic and, most significantly, life-saving process, would be much lower than traditional street-lighting methods used throughout the country at present.

It’s important to note that negative opinion around LEDs usually has to do with incorrect use, rather than the LED itself. It is therefore imperative that the Ugandan authorities undertake relevant research and planning, should they decide to provide Ugandan citizens with a quality solution for lighting Uganda’s roads.


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