Thursday, April 7, 2011

Level Crossing Abuse

A local Merton story this one - Mitcham Eastfields level crossing has been targeted by police after "three similar operations have discovered more than 100 people misusing the crossing".

Level crossings have to be about the safest place on the road network. They are normally equipped with barriers and flashing lights that activate well before the approach of a train. It's impossible to accidentally go through a level crossing when there's a train coming. Additionally, most are equipped with CCTV judging by the number of YouTube videos. It's pretty obvious that level crossing abuse would inevitably attract a dangerous driving charge and a stiff sentence, right? Not according to Network Rail, who in 2009 called for "tougher action on level crossing offences".

Why are the police targeting level crossings? This is the one place where drivers are (in the main) putting their own lives at risk, rather than other people's. While there's the possibility of collateral damage, the driver is pitting their vehicle against a 100-tonne train so it's the driver who will come off worse. If the police are suddenly concerned about safety, why don't they prioritize offences that endanger vulnerable groups or other drivers? The answer to that question is perhaps: why should the police target offences that are difficult and expensive to prosecute yet attract derisory penalties? That said, level-crossing abusers don't turn into courteous, careful civilized drivers when they've cleared a level crossing, so it would be good to get them off the road - only the legal system doesn't do that. In this near miss, so close that the train and the car are separated by the thickness of a cigarette paper, in which the driver - get this - had his wife and young son in the car at the time - the driver was given 12 month suspended sentence and ordered to do180 hours of community service. He was also disqualified from driving for 12 months and fined £722.So the residents of Carmarthenshire may already be enjoying the renewed presence of this nutter on their roads.

The evidence rather points in one direction: road traffic law needs a shake-up. Drivers and the police need to know that society takes dangerous driving seriously. Society needs to know that dangerous drivers are held responsible for their actions, that the costs of enforcement will be recovered from them, and perhaps most important, that dangerous drivers should not be permitted to carry on driving. The current law does none of these things.


  1. Possibility of collateral damage?

    When a chef at the Wokefield Park conference centre near Reading drove onto the tracks at a nearby level crossing (and having sampled the food there I can see why he might) several passengers on an intercity train died.

    Other European countries take reckless driving offences much more seriously than we do, and I agree it is time we came into line.

  2. Disagree with suggesting it is only the driver who is putting his life at risk. remember his hapless passengers, the trauma for the people who have to clear up the jelly and, because it becomes a crime scene, the total closure of the public transport facility for a day or even more (and trains can't easily filter around an obstruction).

    I wonder if the problem is the warnings are too good and too long. Impatience is not a an emotion known to motorists and holding them up for minutes to let a train pass in seconds does cause terrible distress.

    The French are much more considerate. When the lights flash the train is only seconds away (and travelling much faster). You don't need police, camera et al to discourage French motorists from running the red. Removal from the gene pool is the final penalty!