Trains can't give way to other vehicles. For most of us, knowing this is enough to trigger a heightened sense of caution near level crossings. Yet motorists continue to die - mainly, it seems, as a result of complacency.
Train and road vehicle collisions
In the ten years to 2007, there were an average of 32 collisions a year between trains and road vehicles.
Did you know?
- Trains always have the right of way at level crossings.
- About 13% of level crossing accidents occur where barrier arms are in place. Of the remainder, half of the accidents occur on intersections fitted with flashing lights and bells.
A railway level crossing is a point where the road crosses over a railway line. Trains always have right of way; they're unable to stop suddenly and can't swerve to avoid colliding with objects on the tracks.
There are about 1,400 public level crossings in New Zealand, half of which are protected by active alarms. Of those with alarms, about 20 percent have barrier arms - the others have flashing lights and bells.
That leaves about 700 crossings protected only by warning signs, which means motorists must totally rely on their judgement whether it's safe to cross.
Level crossing collisions are usually caused by inattention, but also by drivers becoming impatient or ignoring warning signs and signals altogether. Complacency is also a factor - the infrequency of trains on some tracks can lead some drivers to take an overly casual attitude to looking out for oncoming trains.
AA speaking up for motorists
Invest in safer level crossings
There is an unacceptable level of death and injury resulting from crashes at level crossings.
The AA supports more investment in safety, especially all level crossings on state highways to be fitted with barrier arms. Also, rumble strips to be installed before crossings as an extra warning for road users.
On State Highway 1 and other very high volume roads, we'd like to see level crossings replaced by over-bridges.
We also support more driver education focusing on safety at level crossings.