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Driver distraction - a factor in level crossing fatalities.

Sochon, P, Davies, S, Faulks, I, Regan, M, Stevenson, M, Brown, J, Porter, A, Irwin, J D

Driver Risk & Behaviour

ACRS conference 2005

Every year a number of crashes, some involving fatalities, occur at road/rail intersections, commonly called railway level crossings (RLX). In the five years 1997-2002, 220 fatalities have occurred at railway level crossings in Australia. These comprise both vehicle and pedestrian crashes.

Railway level crossing safety is a very high priority for the rail industry and significant efforts are being devoted to improve the safety of these environments where road and rail meet. For example, the rail industry recently announced new uniform lighting standards to improve train visibility when approaching railway level crossings. In addition, research into driver behaviour at railway level crossings is being conducted under the auspices of the Rail Cooperative Research Centre for Railway Engineering and Technologies based at Central Queensland University.

As well as this, in April 2005 the Australasian Railway Association held the inaugural National Railway Level Crossing Behavioural Workshop where road and rail safety experts came together to discuss ways of reducing incidents at railway level crossings. Emerging from the workshop is a way forward to develop a National Plan to coordinate the activities and information sharing of the States on improving railway level crossing safety, and specifically educating drivers about the dangers of railway level crossings.

Of considerable concern to the rail industry is the fact that unintended driver error is a factor in 46% of fatal railway level crossing incidents, as opposed to 22% for other fatal road crashes. The focus on driver distraction on the whole provides an opportunity to examine the special features of railway level crossings and to develop behavioural countermeasures to improve this important area of road-rail safety.