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Vehicular travel is increasing throughout the world, particularly in large urban areas and at all hours of the day and night. At night, the visual capabilities of humans are impaired and visibility is reduced. Road crashes at night are disproportionately high in numbers and severity, compared with daytime crashes. In the United States, the nighttime fatality rate, weighted for kilometers traveled, is three times the daytime figure.1,2 One of the major factors contributing to the problem is darkness, because of its influence on a driver's behavior and ability. Thus, roadway lighting can be an effective tool to help ensure efficient and safe traffic movement. The U.S. transportation community is interested in identifying cutting-edge research and technologies in highway and roadway lighting systems, including tunnel illumination, sign lighting, and all the methods that are used in the design of roadway lighting systems.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) is in the process of updating its publication Informational Guide for Roadway Lighting and recognizes the need to gather information from transportation ministries and lighting professionals around the world. The information gathered could provide a basis on which to update the Guide, thereby providing a better tool for State and local authorities that design, install, operate, and maintain public lighting systems.

Recognizing the benefits that could result from an examination of international practices, a team of roadway lighting and safety experts was assembled. The team's mission was to observe and document practices that might have value to the U.S. transportation community. In April 2000, the panel traveled to five European countries (Finland, Switzerland, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands) to observe innovative lighting practices and identify those practices that could be implemented in the United States. This report describes the findings and observations of the group and includes recommendations of practices that have potential for implementation in the United States.

Trip Planning

In 1990, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), in coordination with AASHTO and the Transportation Research Board (TRB), began an international transportation technology research program. The program involves assembling teams of experts in specific areas of transportation technology who travel overseas to identify technologies and practices that might have immediate or near-term implementation value in the United States. The cost of sending a group overseas and documenting the findings is significantly less than the cost of researching the technologies and preparing the appropriate documentation in the United States. In addition, individual team members benefit from firsthand observation of the technology applications in a real-world setting.

A scan trip begins when FHWA and AASHTO identify the need to observe international practices in a particular field. A panel of experts in that field is created, and the panel meets to plan the key aspects of the trip and develop a series of "amplifying questions" that are submitted to the host countries in advance of the trip. During the trip, panel members meet as a group with representatives of various organizations in each host country. Upon its return, the panel prepares a report describing its observations and recommendations.


The objective of this study was to review and document European experience with roadway lighting systems and advanced technologies, such as small target visibility (STV) and counter-beam technologies, in tunnels and roadways and for special geometries such as roundabouts. Findings may be incorporated in the new AASHTO Informational Guide for Roadway Lighting, which is due for revision in the near future. The scan team also set out to observe innovative technologies that may be implemented in the United States in the near or long term.

The study panel also was interested in aspects of planning, installation, operation, maintenance, and financing, as they relate to innovative lighting systems. In gaining an understanding of innovative lighting systems and technologies, the panel hoped to identify both the similarities and differences between European and U.S. systems that might affect implementation. The panel also wanted to identify problems associated with implementing innovative technologies and systems and the role(s) that nongovernment, private entities had in implementing and operating lighting systems. Finally, the panel wished to observe, firsthand, the systems and technologies in operation and obtain information to assess their effectiveness.

Team Members

The team members represented several different perspectives including that of the FHWA, four State departments of transportation (Alabama, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin), and the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA).

Appendix A lists the panel members, their affiliations, and short biographies. Figure 1 shows the panel members during their visit to France.


The panel met four times throughout the trip development and the actual tour, as shown in table 1. The first meeting provided an opportunity to define the areas of greatest interest and prepare a series of amplifying questions that the host countries could use to develop programs for presentation to the team.

Figure 1. The roadway lighting scan team: from left, Paul Watson, Jim Havard, Paul Lutkevich, Karl Burkett, Balu Ananthanarayanan, John Arens, Marie-Dominique Gorrigan (ATI), Dale Wilken, Pat Hasson, and Jeff Unick
The roadway lighting scan team: from left, Paul Watson, Jim Havard, Paul Lutkevich, Karl Burkett, Balu Ananthanarayanan, John Arens, Marie-Dominique Gorrigan (ATI), Dale Wilken, Pat Hasson, and Jeff Unick

Table 1. Schedule of Team Meetings.
Location Date and Time Frame Purpose
Washington, D.C. 1/13/00 Determine emphasis areas and develop amplifying questions
Helsinki, Finland 4/2/00 (Beginning of tour) Plan trip actions and emphasis areas
Lyon, France 4/9/00 (Mid-tour) Review findings
Utrecht, The Netherlands 4/16/00 (End of tour) Identify key findings and develop preliminary panel recommendations

Amplifying Questions

To provide the European hosts with a clearer understanding of the issues and technologies of interest, the team prepared a series of amplifying questions that focused on 10 major topics, as listed below:

The amplifying questions are listed in appendix B.

Trip Itinerary

The tour took place during the first two weeks of April 2000. Table 2 lists the countries and cities visited by the study panel.

Table 2. Scan Team Itinerary.
Dates Countries Cities
April 3 - 4 Finlandi Helsink
April 5 - 7 Switzerland Zurich
April 10 France Lyon
April 11 France Paris
April 12 Belgium Liege
April 13 -14 The Netherlands Utrecht

Note: Only the dates on which the panel members met with hosting officials are listed. The table does not include travel days and weekend panel meetings.

Appendix C lists the officials with whom the panel met during the trip. The hosts presented information on a wide variety of lighting topics, and the panel observed many other interesting practices during the tour. Many of the hosting agencies provided documents to the scanning team. The documents referred to in this report are listed in appendix D.

Report Organization

During the tour, the panel identified many noteworthy practices, several of which may have current or future value to transportation agencies in the United States. Each section of this report begins with a brief description of the topic, then documents the panel's observations, and concludes with a recommendation. The final section contains a summary of the panel's research recommendations. Appendix E lists opportunities for the team members to share the information at conferences and through technical articles and demonstrations.

American and European Contrasts

Throughout the tour, team members were continually educated on some of the significant differences between the United States and the European countries visited. The differences were evident in many areas, including culture, language (both common and technical), and engineering practices. While the engineering differences were the focus of the trip, the other differences affected the gathering of information and also will have an impact on the ability of U.S. practitioners to implement promising technologies or practices.


Although the focus of the trip was on innovative lighting systems, panel members had the pleasure of experiencing the people and facilities in each country. As they traveled on planes, trains, subways, buses, and taxis, stayed in different hotels, and interacted with the people in each country, the panel members were able to observe many significant cultural characteristics in the five countries. Many cultural characteristics represent nothing more than a different way of living and give each area its unique identity. Some cultural characteristics, however, have a direct impact on the lighting systems in each country. Many of the cities visited have very dense, active populations that engage in extensive walking or bicycling. Comprehensive trolley and subway systems are used for both work and recreation. Additionally, many automobiles compete for the limited parking. Also, large numbers of people were out and about in the center of town at night. The team members surmised that this nighttime activity prompted the local governments to light buildings, parks, and monuments for the users' comfort and security, as well as for display.

Preservation of urban centers is important to Europeans. As a result, Europeans have a very strong sense of history and the preservation of that history. The antiquity and historical importance of European cities is a magnet for tourists and of great economic importance.

Generally, Europeans also appear to have great respect for authority, which leads to high compliance with traffic-control regulations and devices. In many cases, the panel identified practices that were innovative or unique, but that would have limited application in the United States because of basic differences in lighting systems and cultures.


The panel members were continually impressed by the ability of their hosts to communicate in English. The majority of individuals the panel met with were fluent in English. Even so, the panel had to learn numerous terms, both common and technical. A few of the most common are listed below, with the European term listed first and the equivalent American term in parentheses.


It was evident to the team members that their European counterparts have had many of years of experience with designing solutions and managing lighting problems in cities and rural areas on all classes of roadways. The panel found many solutions practical, effective, and, more often than not, new and creative. European engineers are utilizing new technologies faster than many of their U.S. counterparts, and European transportation agencies appear to be more progressive in testing and implementing new technologies and applications of lighting systems. The difference may be due, in large part, to the aggressive and progressive research programs in the individual countries. Many of the solutions observed on roadways were certainly more advanced than those that are used on roadways in the United States. Examples include the use of variable lighting levels, depending on time of day, weather, and traffic movement; traffic guidance systems, in place of fixed, overhead lighting systems; energy-absorbing poles, in areas where frangible poles could not be used; master lighting plans to guide long-term development; and vertical illumination in crosswalks.

One of the most significant engineering contrasts is the Europeans' willingness to gain knowledge and experience by conducting practical experiments on active roadways. This method permits rapid implementation of innovative ideas. In defense of the lack of experimentation in the United States, Europeans do not experience the amount of litigation that regularly occurs in the States. Therefore, in Europe, it is easier to do actual research on public roads.

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Page last modified on November 7, 2014
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