Despite concerns that malfunctioning LED street lights distract drivers and could cause seizures, Manitoba Hydro will continue to install the energy-conserving bulbs in lamps across the province.
The Crown corporation is halfway through a six-year roadway lighting conversion program to switch over 130,000 street lights in Manitoba. Last month, there were 57 street lights that started strobing across the province.
There are three strobing street lights around Mount Royal Road at present, according to St. James resident Angela Gregory.
When Gregory first saw strobing while driving to work, she said it was distracting because she was wondering what it meant – if it was some sort of new road signal.
"It was quite bright," she said Wednesday, adding she thought about her mom, who has epilepsy, right away.
"Growing up, my mom couldn’t watch movies in the theatre with me, it was that sensitive," said Gregory. "She always mentioned strobing lights affect her seizures."
Gregory said she would be worried about her mom, who lives in Neepawa, visiting Winnipeg and seeing the malfunctioning street lights if she were driving or in a passenger seat.
Sara Bettess, director of Epilepsy and Seizure Association of Manitoba, also said the strobing lights have the potential to cause a seizure, for people living with photosensitive epilepsy.
The intensity of the light and rate and duration of a flashing light all impact whether someone with photosensitive epilepsy has a seizure.
According to Canadian Epilepsy Alliance, flashes at a frequency between 15 to 20 flashes per second are most likely to cause a seizure, but – while rare – some people can experience seizures at a rate of three flashes per second.
The LED street lights strobe because of poor grounding, wiring issues or faulty drivers, according to Manitoba Hydro spokesperson Bruce Owen.
Owen said Wednesday that LEDs can also strobe when they, "get a little carried away in the cold and over-perform."
Of the 70,000 bulbs have been switched out to date, he said less than 0.1 per cent were strobing in December. Sometimes the strobing corrects itself, but other times, Manitoba Hydro has to visit the site and fix it.
While some Manitobans are concerned about the health hazards of the strobing, others simply find it annoying.
St. James resident Lisa Montgomery said she has to close her blinds at night because a light down her street is constantly strobing.
"It’s super annoying when you’re out on the street or out walking the dogs," she said Wednesday.
Montgomery said she had to shield her eyes when walking home from a New Years party on the weekend.
"There’s no going back," said Owen, adding that there are always issues to be sorted out when adopting new technology.
He said the old light bulbs are no longer produced, and they had many issues of their own.
Owen said the LED lights use up to 60 per cent less energy, require minimal maintenance, turn on and off automatically and last 15 or more years longer than the previous bulbs.
"It’s great to save the electricity but if it is a concern, and a distraction, I feel that’s something the city should look into," said Gregory, adding she thinks more research should be done to weigh the pros and safety cons. "It’s something that definitely needs to be fixed."
Owen said Manitoba Hydro recognizes it’s annoying and distracting.
"That’s why we need people to report it," he said.
Winnipeg Police have yet to hear about any accidents caused by the strobing.
"If you know you're affected by it, keeping your eye on the road and keeping your eye down, as opposed to being distracted by the lights, is one of the main things you need to do and looking ahead," said Winnipeg Police Public Information Officer Constable Tammy Skrabek.
Skrabek said it's also a good idea to change your route if you see a blinking light up ahead.
"We can't control the weather and we can't control the lights but, it's up to people to decide for their own safety," she said.
Manitobans can report strobing lights to Manitoba Hydro online at www.hydro.mb.ca/ or call 204-480-5900.