On-road driving studies to understand why drivers behave as they do at regional rail level crossings
Improving safety at rail level crossings is an important part of both road and rail safety strategies. While low in number, crashes between vehicles and trains at level crossings are catastrophic events typically involving multiple fatalities and serious injuries. Advances in driving assessment methods, such as the provision of on-road instrumented test vehicles with eye and head tracking, provide researchers with the opportunity to further understand driver behaviour at such crossings in ways not previously possible. This paper describes a study conducted to further understand the factors that shape driver behaviour at rail level crossings using instrumented vehicles. Twenty-two participants drove an On-Road Test Vehicle (ORTeV) on a predefined route in regional Victoria with a mix of both active (flashing lights with/without boom barriers) and passively controlled (stop, give way) crossings. Data collected included driving performance data, head checks, and interview data to capture driver strategies. The data from an integrated suite of methods demonstrated clearly how behaviour differs at active and passive level crossings, particularly for inexperienced drivers. For example, the head check data clearly show the reliance and expectancies of inexperienced drivers for active warnings even when approaching passively controlled crossings. These studies provide very novel and unique insights into how level crossing design and warnings shape driver behaviour.