Driver behaviour at rail level crossings: responses to flashing lights, traffic signals and stop signs in simulated rural driving

Appl Ergon. 2011 May;42(4):548-54. doi: 10.1016/j.apergo.2010.08.011.


Australian road and railway authorities have made a concerted effort to reduce the number of rail level crossings, particularly the higher risk passive crossings that are protected by devices such as 'give way' or 'stop' signs. To improve this situation, passive level crossings are often upgraded with active controls such as flashing red lights. Traffic signals may provide good safety outcomes at level crossings but remain untested. The primary purpose of this research was to compare driver behaviour at two railway level crossings with active controls, flashing red lights and traffic signals, to behaviour at the current standard passive level crossing control, a stop sign. Participants drove the MUARC advanced driving simulator for 30 min. During the simulated drive, participants were exposed to three level crossing scenarios. Each scenario consisted of one of three level crossing control types, and was associated with an oncoming train. Mean vehicle speed on approach to the level crossings decreased more rapidly in response to flashing lights than to traffic signals. While speed on approach was lowest for the stop-sign condition, the number of non-compliant drivers (i.e., those who did not stop) at the crossing was highest for this condition. While results indicate that traffic signals at rail level crossings do not appear to offer any safety benefits over and above flashing red lights, further avenues of research are proposed to reach more definitive conclusions. Compliance was lowest for the passive crossing control which provides further support for the ongoing passive crossing upgrades in Australia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic / prevention & control*
  • Accidents, Traffic / psychology
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Automobile Driving / psychology*
  • Automobile Driving / statistics & numerical data
  • Automobiles*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Eye Movements / physiology
  • Feedback
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Railroads*
  • Rural Population*
  • Safety
  • Sound Localization
  • Victoria
  • Visual Perception*