Storytelling lessens likelihood of risk-taking in young people

Storytelling lessens likelihood of risk-taking in young people

Young people are less likely to take risks around railway tracks if they have listened to a story of someone’s personal experience of a collision with a train, new research shows.

The finding is in a study by Otago University student Sienna MacArthur-Beadle, who was recently awarded TrackSAFE’s ‘Louise Cairns Award’.

The award recognizes someone who has undertaken academic research that could make a significant contribution to improving safety around the New Zealand rail network.

Sienna’s study assessed the effects of storytelling on young people’s attitudes toward pedestrian safety around railway tracks.

TrackSAFE Manager Megan Drayton says the research is valuable because collisions between pedestrians and trains have one of the highest death rates of any transport accident.

“We know from previous research that learning how to behave safely around the rail network at a young age may be a protective factor against pedestrian accidents for young people throughout their childhood and later in life.

“Sienna’s research gives us some really useful information that we can use in our efforts to engage with young people on the subject of rail safety.”

Two West Auckland intermediate schools participated in the research which started in 2021 after a yearlong Covid-related delay. One school was the control group, and the other school was the ‘intervention’ group.

Both groups received a standard rail safety slide presentation from Auckland Transport’s Community Transport Team.

At the intervention school, two people shared their personal stories of how train collisions had affected their lives and well-being.

One was a Rail Incident Controller from KiwiRail who had attended the scenes of a number of fatal collisions and the other had survived a collision with a train when he was a teenager. He discussed how the accident had affected his life for the past 18 years, and how it continued to impact his ability to work and live a healthy life.

After questionnaires and a detailed evaluation, the research concluded that the students who had listened to the stories were more likely to report that they believed that certain risk-taking behaviors were unsafe and said they would be less likely to take risks around railway tracks in the future.

Risk-taking behavior includes pushing through automatic gates, crossing when the lights and bells are activated or immediately crossing behind a train after it passes.

The Louise Cairns Award was established in 2014 in memory of Chris Cairns’ sister Louise Cairns, who was killed in a level crossing collision at Rolleston in Canterbury in 1993. Wendy Gilbert and Joanna Peat also lost their lives, and several people were seriously injured.

This August will mark the 30-year anniversary of the collision – one of the worst level crossing collisions in New Zealand’s history.