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

Big Rigs - - NEWS -

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 far­reach­ing tragedy.

Ac­cord­ing to statis­tics based on regis­tra­tions, in the years from 2010 to 2014 heavy ve­hi­cles have been shown to be over­rep­re­sented 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!

Just this morn­ing a bloke went across in front of me only 50 me­tres away … If he had stalled I would have cleaned him up.

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.

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.

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