Increase fines, cut speed around level crossings: report

Government committee calls for speed restrictions near level crossings and stringent fines for safety breaches

Increase fines, cut speed around level crossings: report
Increase fines, cut speed around level crossings, report says
By Brad Gardner

The trucking industry may soon face strict operating conditions around level crossings, following proposals for new speed restrictions near trains and stringent fines for safety breaches.

A federal parliamentary committee wants sweeping changes made to rules governing level crossing safety, listing 10 recommendations it says will reduce the rate of collisions involving trains and road vehicles.

The Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government wants speed limits near level crossings on highways cut from 100km/h to 80km/h to give drivers more time to react to oncoming trains.

The committee’s report, Level Crossing Safety, has backed Victoria’s decision to significantly increase fines for breaches in the aftermath of the fatal truck and train collision in Kerang in 2007, saying this model should be adopted nationwide.

The Department of Transport increased the fines for level crossing infringements from $77 and three demerit points to $430 and four demerit points.

It also created a new offence for those who weave between lowered boom gates, with offenders facing a fine of $3,304 and four demerit points and loss of licence for three months.

"The committee supports these measures to encourage motor vehicle drivers to engage in safer behaviour at level crossings," the report says

"It would like to see, however, greater consistency with regard to penalties for improper motor vehicle driver behaviour at level crossings across the states and territories."

If the recommendation is adopted, the National Road Safety Council will be tasked with setting consistent penalties across Australia.

The committee also backed a recommendation from the Australian Trucking Association for a cut-in radio warning system.

ATA Chief Executive Stuart St Clair says the system, currently used in some states for other purposes, will improve safety because drivers will be aware of what is happening at an upcoming crossing.

"If you drive into one of the tunnels in Sydney or Melbourne and there is an accident or a problem, a cut-in system operates into your car radios and talks to you," he says.

However, St Clair also says an early warning system may encourage drivers to accelerate in an effort to beat a train.

His comments were made during public hearings held by the committee, which noted poor heavy vehicle driver behaviour around level crossings.

Furthermore, the report referred to a Queensland University of Technology (QUT) study that found a lack of visibility played a part in level crossing accidents.

"It also found that ‘wilful violation of crossing protocols, often as a time-saving measure, as well as driver complacency due to high levels of familiarity’ was seen as a significant behavioural factor," the committee’s report says, quoting the QUT study.

Citing poor behaviour from all motorists as the primary cause of level crossing incidents, the report saying more needs to be done to educate drivers about the dangers of breaching road rules.

The committee also advocates the use of rumble strips to improve awareness of approaching trains.

It has, however, questioned the effectiveness of passive rumble strips as opposed to those that only activate when a train nears.

"One common argument in opposition to the efficacy of passive rumble strips, that the committee notes, is that drivers become accustomed to the rumble strips over time and therefore they lose their impact," the report says.

Other recommendations include aggregating data from level crossing crashes and fatalities into a national database to improve knowledge of the causes of accidents, and the development of a revised railway strategy as part of a national transport plan.

The committee wants more research done to determine the effectiveness of Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) capable of transmitting information between trains, road vehicles and infrastructure.

Governments were also urged to invest resources in determining the effectiveness of auxiliary lighting on increasing a train’s visibility.

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