What was the issue?

The findings of the Victorian Coronial inquest into the 2007 Kerang level crossing multiple fatality delivered in 2013 included the following recommendation:

“Joint sophisticated human factors research and innovative technology to determine how best to alert drivers who will otherwise not notice an approaching train in the context of current level crossing warnings.”

Need to identify potential countermeasures for deficits in driver awareness of trains and associated deficient decision-making.

Need to identify knowledge gaps that may lead to further research and development.

What was done?

Literature review including analysis of crashes investigated by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) and the New South Wales Office of Transport Safety Investigations (OTSI).

What was found?

While numerous incidents at level crossings have been attributed to habitual behaviour, 24 serious level crossing crashes were reviewed with factors such as sighting distance, violation of road rules and inappropriate protection measures (i.e. speed limit, or give way rather than stop signage) likely to have been more influential than habitual behaviour in the majority of these incidents.

Countermeasures to improve overall level crossing safety such as reduction of speed limits or development of best practice in relation to maintenance responsibilities at level crossings, and implementing treatments to reduce the severity of incidents as well as the likelihood, would reduce significantly the number of deaths or serious injuries resulting from any habitual behaviour.

Further Research

Following this initial report, the Identifying Improved Stimuli for Level Crossing Controls research project is investigating responses to different types of flashing light and how that could yield improvements to help tackle in-attentional blindness and better alert road users to the presence of a train. This project is due to be completed in 2018.