Accidents at Railroad Crossings Pose Serious Risks, Yet Drivers Often Not As Cautious

Despite the serious risks associated with accidents at railroad crossing, new research suggests that drivers typically exercise far less caution then they do at other intersections.

According to new railroad safety research presented at the 2017 Australasian Road Safety Conference, drivers typically prepare to stop much further before arriving at a road intersection than they do at a train crossing.

Researchers with the QUT’s Centre for Accident Research & Road Safety examined the behavior of drivers as they approached highway intersections and railroad crossings, to determine whether enough precautions are taken.

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With more than 70 collisions at railroad crossings annually in Australia, most of which result in fatalities, researchers indicate that the findings may help identify and understand driver behavior, to prevent some of this crashes.

The observational study found drivers approaching highway intersections began preparing to stop 75 meters before the intersections, whereas those approaching railroad crossings only began stopping 20 meters before the crossing without lights or boom gates.

Further observations found that drivers were forced to come to much more abrupt stops at railroad crossings, which indicated they may not adequately assess whether a train was approaching, given that trains can approach much faster than cars. This indicated drivers had significantly less time to take evasive actions to avoid collisions.

Drivers were found not to adjust their speeds or approach to railroad crossings in lesser visibility, such as during night time driving. Night time driving with reduced visibility also did not prompt drivers to begin stopping any sooner than during day time driving.

According to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a motorist is almost 20 times more likely to die in a crash involving a train than in a collision involving another motor vehicle.

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) train crash statistics indicate that during the 2016 calendar year in the United States, there were 2,025 railroad collisions, resulting in 265 fatalities and nearly 800 mild to severe injuries.

The study was presented at the 2017 Australasian Road Safety Conference which consisted of hundreds of highway safety experts across the globe, in an effort to help guide the design initiatives needed to improve safety at railroad crossings, suggesting highway regulators should consider developing advanced active advanced warnings.


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