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Driver compliance with, and understanding of, level crossing controls.

Rudin-Brown, C M, Lenne, M G, Edquist, J, Trotter, M, Navarro, J, Tomasevic, N (Peer reviewed)

Road Environment


Since the early 1970s, in an effort to improve road safety, Australian railway authorities have made a concerted effort to reduce the number of level road-rail crossings, particularly those controlled by passive devices such as ‘give way’ or ‘stop’ signs. Despite this effort, approximately 1400 passive-controlled level crossings in Victoria remain in operation. To improve this situation, passive level crossings are often ‘upgraded’ with active traffic controls devices. Consequently, the question arises as to which of the available options represents the most effective active traffic control device at level crossings.

The main objective of the present study was to compare the efficacy, and drivers’ subjective perception, of different traffic control devices at level crossings. Twenty-five fully-licensed drivers aged between 20 and 50 years participated in a high fidelity driving simulator study that compared three level crossing traffic control devices. A stop sign-controlled level crossing served as the passive referent, while two different active level crossing traffic control devices were also assessed: flashing lights and standard traffic lights.

Because traffic lights are believed to be more recognisable and to convey more salient information to drivers than flashing lights, it was hypothesised that drivers would report a preference for traffic lights over flashing lights at level crossings, and that this preference would correlate with safer driving behaviour. In fact, however, the majority (56%) of drivers reported preferring flashing lights to traffic lights, and were less likely to commit a crossing violation at one equipped with flashing lights than one with traffic lights.

Forty per cent of participants made violations at the stop sign controlled level crossing. Collectively, results indicate that the installation of traffic lights at real-world level crossings may not offer safety benefits over and above those provided by flashing lights. Furthermore, the high rate of violations at passively controlled crossings strongly supports the continued practice of upgrading level crossings with active traffic control devices.