Posted 3rd October 2018 | 9 Comments

Distracted motorists ‘risking their lives’ at crossings

THE number of narrowly-avoided collisions between trains and road vehicles on level crossings is increasing, Network Rail has warned, in spite of a series of high-profile publicity campaigns highlighting the risks of ignoring the rules.

Lorries are involved most frequently, accounting for 32 per cent of recorded incidents, but cars are not far behind, at 28 per cent. Other users, such as cyclists and pedestrians, are further down the list.

There are 46 incidents on British level crossings during a typical week and one factor is distraction, which can cause drivers to overlook the warning lights. Another risk is the large number of motorists who disregard the ‘box junction’ rules, which mean that a vehicle should not enter a yellow hatched area, such as a level crossing, unless the exit is plainly clear. As a result cars queue across the railway, which leaves them stationary and vulnerable in the crossing’s danger zone.

Network Rail has released some new CCTV footage, while a study by Populus on behalf of Network Rail has revealed that in the Anglia region alone over a third of drivers (37 per cent) felt their passengers were their biggest distraction while driving. Over a quarter (28 per cent), blamed children in the car or being late as the top reasons for not waiting at a crossing.

The survey also suggested that a lack of knowledge may be to blame, with 26 per cent of motorists in Anglia reporting they have never been taught how to use a level crossing. In this region alone, British Transport Police has investigated 521 traffic offences involving level crossings over the past year. Road users have obstructed the yellow box, ignored red lights or overtaken on double white lines.

Network Rail head of safety for Anglia, Richard Tew, said: ‘It’s clear that there is a lack of knowledge around how dangerous railway crossings can be. We are seeing drivers take risks at level crossings every day – putting themselves and others in danger. Nothing is worth risking your life over, just to save a few minutes of time.

‘We are investing more than £100 million to improve level crossing safety across Britain as part of the Railway Upgrade Plan, but we also need drivers to obey the law at level crossings. By staying behind the barrier and out of the yellow box, until it is safe to cross and paying attention to the warnings at level crossings, we can all keep ourselves and those in our vehicles out of harm’s way.’

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • Greg Tingey, London

    Doug Carmicheal
    "Ordinary" traffic lights can be passed under certain circumstances & by Emergency Vehicles
    The red "Wig-Wags" must NOT BE PASSED by anything at all at any time - even police / fire / ambulances must stop at them..

  • Chris Neville-Smith, Durham

    I'm most concerned by the number of lorry drivers. 32% might not be much ahead of 28%, but when you consider that lorries only account for a minority of vehicles, that's an appalling standard of safety.

    I would come down like a ton of bricks on lorry drivers who break the law. They pose a much bigger danger to people on the train than cars, and lorry drivers are supposed to know how to drive safely as part of their job. A train driver who did something that dangerous would be sacked immediately - it's time we expected the same of other professional drivers.

  • king arthur, Buckley

    The point I was making is that I don't see why motorists who jump the lights at level crossings aren't being handed 3 points and £100 fine - a punishment that is doled out so liberally elsewhere for the most minor driving offence.

  • Andrew Gwilt, Benfleet Essex

    At least some level crossings in the East of England have closed and have been replaced by bridges and underpasses. Except in Ely, Cambridgeshire where Lorries, buses and HGV’s pass over the railway tracks and lighter vehicles including cars, vans and motorbikes pass underneath the railway.

    Which is due to close when the new A142 Ely Southern Bypass will been built and to open next year and will take most of the heavy traffic including buses, lorries and HGV’s as well other vehicles to minimise congestion in & out of Ely and the surrounding roads. And the current level crossing to close. Plus with the old railway bridge that carries the Cambridge-Kings Linn Fen Line will be replaced by new widened railway bridge as part of the upgrade and with cars and smaller vehicles under a certain height will pass beneath the railway line. Which will be beneficial for the City of Ely in Cambridgeshire.

  • Jim Livesey, Mirfield

    In my part of the UK a red traffic light is almost always interpreted as "speed up and get through before the other road gets moving". So a simple red light is probably not the solution. I think that the only way is the hardest one: identify the worst L/C s for violations, consider reinforcing and adding to the warnings, collect camera evidence and prosecute all clear violations.

    It MIGHT work.

  • James Oxford, Oxford

    I am surprised by the comment that 'the authorities are over zealous in enforcing driver elsewhere on the roads'.** I feel the problem is that many road users are too used to getting away with illegal behaviour, for example stopping in a yellow box when they are not allowed to do so, and take the view that they can do the same at a level crossing.
    [** Me too.--Ed.]

  • Tony Pearce, Reading

    I got stuck once on Ufton Nervet 'Level' Crossing once, - several years before the fatal accident (west Berkshire). It has now been replaced recently by a Bridge. The crossing was anything but 'Level' with badly maintained road approaches on either side (local Council's responsibility). I slowed right down for the crossing because of its poor condition and had just past the lights when the bell sounded and the lights flashed. I decided I was just too far over not to continue so I accelerated hard and stalled the car. Never been so scared in my life, and I had my wife and young baby with me. Took a few seconds to restart and get over. I was informed I had 29 seconds to clear it by Railway Staff later on. There was no CCTV cameras and the Crossing was totally automatic with a line speed of 100 mph.


    The public need simple, normal traffic lights instead of the flashing type. There tends to be too many warnings which distract ! Motorists with distractions in their car will still automatically stop at a simple red light. The lights could be modified so that amber is only on for less than a second. Rail crossings need to resemble a crossroads to the average motorist.

  • king arthur, Buckley

    I've never understood why they don't put traffic lights at crossings along with red light cameras. The authorities are overzealous in enforcing driving behaviour elsewhere on the roads so it remains to be seen why there is so little interest in rail crossing safety.

    [Sorry, I don't understand your point. There are indeed traffic lights at all but the quietest crossings, and they flash red -- which means mandatory stop for all vehicles, including the emergency services. CCTV could not be published unless there were cameras, and it will be these recordings which mainly form the basis of the BTP's investigations, as mentioned in the story. There is a great deal of interest in promoting level crossing safety or, better still, abolishing crossings altogether.--Ed.]