Collisions between trains and cars and people almost always occur because the driver or pedestrian has made a mistake in judgment or perception.
They either didn’t slow down or stop (therefore failing to see the train until it was too late) or they thought they could beat the train over the crossing.
Sometimes people become distracted by external factors around them and fail to look for approaching trains. This might include children or other passengers in the car, sunlight, eating food in the car or other things that can distract a driver. To stay safe drivers and pedestrians should stay focused around railway tracks at all times.
Pedestrians can also become distracted, particularly by the use of modern technology. People can stay safe around tracks by removing headphones and not using mobile devices anywhere near the rail corridor.
Ignoring warning signs
Alarms and bells signal that a train is coming. Sometimes people decide to cross tracks after a train has passed but before the signals have stopped operating. This is particularly dangerous on double tracks as a train may be coming from the other direction.
A significant number of vehicle level crossing collisions occur within a close distance to people’s homes. Some people wrongly assume that they know the train timetable. They can also become complacent around the crossing because they use it all the time.
Train timetables change and trains can come at any time of the day or night. People should always be mindful and vigilant and never assume when a train might arrive at a particular crossing.
It can be difficult for people to accurately perceive the speed of an approaching train, because from a distance it can appear as if it is not moving. For this reason people are advised to always wait for a train to pass if they can see it down the tracks.
Some collisions occur because people decide to ignore the warning signs or signals and try to beat the train across the crossing. People may not understand that trains are usually travelling faster than they think, and decide to take unnecessary and unlawful risks. This puts their lives and the lives of their passengers at risk.
Some collisions occur simply because drivers approach a crossing too fast to stop if flashing lights start operating. In this type of incident usually the road vehicle crashes into the side of the train.
Failure to comply with road markings
Some collisions occur when motorists fail to leave enough space for their vehicle on the other side of a crossing and become trapped on the crossing in front of the barriers. Always ensure there is space on the other side for your vehicle before entering a crossing.
Most deaths on the railway occur when people choose to walk on railway tracks at any place other than at a level crossing. Some of these deaths are attributable to self-harm.
Noise cancelling technology in modern vehicles may mean people find it more difficult to hear railway crossing alarms until they are close to the crossing.
Human factors approach
Human factors is the study of how the design of equipment and devices fits with the capabillities of the human body and brain.
A ‘human factors’ approach to the causal factors of level crossing collisions suggests that they occur when several elements come together to allow for the event/failure or consequence to occur.
Sometimes there is a mismatch between a person’s interpretation of the situation and their understanding of the road/rail environment.
For example, while people can make mistakes, they might also act in a certain way because they have succeeded in getting away with that behaviour in the past. That is, they have learned that they can get away with it, because they have done it before, or have watched someone else doing it.
Many of the elements that mislead or allow mistakes or misjudgments to occur come down to design of the system. The science of Human Factors and Ergonomics is constantly attempting to understand behaviour in relation to the design of road and rail environments. Improved design can help prevent safety incidents that may occur as a result of human mistakes or misjudgments.