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Don’t rush to the other side – it’s not worth the risk

We live in an age of risk assessment.

Every professional truck driver knows that with current Chain of Responsibility legislation, any action - from driving through traffic lights to changing a tyre on the side of the road - has to be subject to risk assessment.

Truck drivers are aware that they have to be confident that the level of risk is reduced to an acceptable level before taking any action.

It may seem that we live in a risk-averse environment, but it is accepted and common knowledge that no longer is there such a beast as "calculated risk".

In particular, there is no place for calculated risk when driving through level crossings, especially when 72% of the 3800 level crossings across New South Wales are "passive" crossings, (usually just with a stop or give way sign), and require our full focus and attention.

Truck drivers with some years of experience on Australia's roads have witnessed their fair share of poor judgment and near-misses at level crossings.

These truck drivers have a very good understanding of the damage that a collision with a train can cause, but still there are drivers and other road users who will run the risk and reckon they can beat the train.

Many do beat the train, but some don't, and the result is far reaching tragedy.


According to statistics based on registrations, in the years from 2010 to 2014 heavy vehicles have been shown to be over represented in crashes at level crossings in NSW.

A total of 15% of crashes at level crossings involve heavy vehicles, even though heavy vehicles only make up just 2.14% of registrations.

These figures are skewed because of the huge number of kilometres driven by registered trucks across regional NSW areas compared to other vehicles.

But even so, the fact remains that a significant number of trucks are involved in level crossing crashes and there is definitely room for improvement in truck driver behaviour at level crossings.

Attitudinal research by Transport for NSW shows that heavy vehicle drivers with less than five years' experience are most likely to engage, either deliberately or unknowingly, in high-risk behaviour at level crossings.

This can manifest itself by driving through a level crossing give way or stop sign without stopping or adequately looking for trains.

Speeding up at a level crossing in an attempt to beat a coming train, driving around boom gates and crossing railway tracks after a train has passed - without checking for a train coming in the opposite direction - are all also behaviours exhibited by less-experienced truck drivers which can lead to serious crashes.

The opposite side of this coin is that drivers with more than five years' experience will be less likely to consciously take risks, but may well still end up engaging in high-risk behaviour due to misjudging the distance of a coming train and that train's speed, or misjudging the length of their own heavy vehicle and the time it takes to cross a level crossing, exposing trailers to the coming train.

All road behaviour is about humans.

Whether it's taking the kids to school or driving across a level crossing in a truck with a train approaching.


This is a human equation.

There is a person in the train, a person in the truck. These professionals have far more in common than many imagine.

Take Peter Lougher, who has been driving trains for many years. Peter says he sees road users taking unnecessary risks at level crossings at least once a week.

"Just this morning a bloke went across in front of me only 50 metres away," Peter says, "I hit emergency and when I went across he looked up at me, put his foot down and went across only 20 metres in front of me. Even though I was in emergency, I still went across.

If he had stalled I would have cleaned him up." Sound familiar? Truck drivers deal with this sort of behaviour in front of heavy vehicles every day, there is always someone who does not understand what it takes to pull a fully loaded truck up.

Truck drivers and train drivers have a lot in common. As Peter Lougher says, "Why risk your life? Why risk your family?"

There are pressures and temptations on the road, perhaps a stock truck fully-loaded heading towards a level crossing on an unsealed road.

"I've never seen a train on this track yet, I'll just cross" could be what goes through the truck driver's mind as he approaches a level crossing.

He goes through the level crossing, not stopping for a stop sign, barely looking up and down the tracks if it is a give way sign.

For most drivers that have made a mistake, it could be said that experience is born of mistakes and they have learnt something from them.

However when you add a train into the equation, it ends up being a toss of the dice: if the driver loses, he or she is dead.

It's just not worth the risk to rush to the other side. Let's face it, driving a truck is a difficult profession, there is nothing easy about it.

Long hours at the wheel, understanding how the truck will react in a million different circumstances, always on the lookout for other road users that might not be as mindful when driving around trucks.

In this age of Chain of Responsibility, professional truck drivers are continually carrying out risk assessments and adapting behaviour to match that assessment.

Quite simply, it's how we stay alive.

So level crossing behaviour is a no-brainer. Risk can be reduced by following the rules, signs and traffic signals and never rushing across a level crossing.

It's easy to do and means removing one area of risk from an already tough truck driving life.

The key messages are simple: never assume, always check, follow the rules. It's not worth the risk!    


If you're crossing at a level crossing, here are some handy hints:

■ Always obey the signs and traffic signals (be it a STOP sign or GIVE WAY sign or lights). Never drive through activated flashing lights or around lowered boom gates - you may think there is enough time before a train comes, but taking that risk could prove to be fatal for you.

■ Make sure you stop, look and listen before you cross.

■ Always act as if a train is coming and always check for a second train after the first one has passed - trains don't always run to schedule so you never know what's around the corner. Trains can come in any direction, at any time, and there can be multiple trains on tracks.

■ Never cross unless you are certain you can clear the track. Remember that your rig takes longer to clear a level crossing than other smaller vehicles, so make sure you allow extra time to clear the tracks safely and know the length of your vehicle.

■ Some trains can take up to 14 rugby fields to stop at a level crossing, so even if they see you, they can't stop. Remember: the train cannot stop for you but you can stop for the train.

Topics:  level crossing nsw transport safety