Rural Car Drivers

Thirteen respondents (4 female, 9 male) aged from 18 years to more than 75 years old years completed the rural car drivers’ survey. Of these, four had professional experience relevant to rail level crossing safety: two had 5-6 years’ experience and two had 35-40 years’ experience.

Over two-thirds of respondents held a full/open driver’s licence (69%) and just over half of the respondents were aged between 45 and 64 years (54%). Most respondents lived in Victoria (46%) or New South Wales (38%), with one from each of Queensland and Western Australia. There was variability in participants’ exposure to rail level crossings, with 15% reporting that they crossed level crossings several times a day, 39% several times a week, 23% several times a month and 3% less than once a month. Respondents reported driving an average of 368 km each week (SD = 268), with most nominating driving at work (54%) as the primary purpose for most of their driving.

Paired comparison analysis revealed that car drivers rated the Simple But Strong crossing first for compliance and preference, and second on the other criteria. The GPS Average Speed interface was ranked first for efficiency, and the standard active crossing was ranked first for safety. The standard passive crossing was ranked last on all the criteria.

Rural drivers liked most aspects of the Simple But Strong crossing, especially the advance warning and the coloured road markings. However, several respondents felt that the 40 km/h speed limit through the crossing was unnecessary, especially when no train was approaching; one driver suggested that the speed limit could be a variable message sign activated by the train. Respondents also noted that the design put the onus on drivers to monitor their speed and the environment (e.g. in comparison with boom barriers, which would ‘force’ them to stop) and were concerned that inattentive country drivers may miss the signs.

Drivers’ responses to the Ecological Interface Design crossing were mixed. Respondents liked the coloured road markings and felt these would be effective at alerting drivers to the rail level crossing and the need to change their behaviour. Some liked the mirrors, but others were concerned about how they would perform under variable weather conditions (e.g. glare, fog). The most common criticisms were the lack of active controls and regulatory signage to guide road user behaviour. Some respondents also objected to having the train speed reduced to 20 km/h, with one respondent suggesting that this could negatively impact safety by encouraging drivers to try to ‘beat the train’.

Responses to the GPS Average Speed interface were also mixed. Most drivers thought the idea had merit, but also expressed concerns about its implementation. Specific concerns were: Drivers may use the speed guidance to increase their speed and race in front of a train, GPS technology is not sufficiently reliable to implement the system, drivers may become over-reliant on technology and auditory alerts could be annoying or distracting.

Interestingly, among the drivers with professional experience relating to rail level crossing safety, there appeared to be a generational divide. The respondents with 35-40 years’ experience considered the GPS Average Speed interface ‘promising’ but were strongly opposed to both other novel designs. In contrast, the respondents with 5-6 years’ experience had a more tempered view of the GPS interface, raising both benefits and drawbacks (e.g. drivers may try to ‘race’ the train), and were more positive about the other novel designs, especially the Simple But Strong crossing.

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