Call for level crossing driving test questions

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The Independent Online

The driving test should include compulsory questions about level crossings, a rail chief said today.

The call from Network Rail chief executive Iain Coucher came as his company revealed worrying numbers of level crossing incidents involving road users last year.

"Motorists are too often playing Russian roulette with a 200-tonne train," said Mr Coucher.

Network Rail said around 95% of incidents at level crossings were down to motorist or pedestrian misuse or error.

The company said level crossing incidents in 2009 included:

:: 3,242 recorded incidents of misuse or error;

:: 14 collisions between vehicles and trains;

:: 13 deaths;

:: 140 near misses between motor vehicles and trains - nearly three a week.

Network Rail said the inclusion of level crossing safety questions in the driving test would help stamp out "crazy driving behaviour".

Mr Coucher said: "Tragically some motorists lose their lives gambling at level crossings by running red lights or dodging around barriers.

"I'm confident that lives will be saved if motorists learn how to safely use level crossings from the day they pass their test. Our campaign is raising awareness of the very real dangers of running the risk but we think more can be done to change motorists' behaviour."

Mr Coucher added: "Thousands of pedestrians also use level crossings every day, and we know that many misuse them, putting themselves at risk. I would urge everyone to observe the warning signs and lights and use crossings safely and correctly."

Andrew Howard, the AA's head of road safety, said: "Level crossings are one of the few places where one motorist's irresponsibility can affect the safety of many, many people.

"Motorists must be aware of the rules, which are simple, logical and well signed. The risk in trying to save two minutes jumping a level crossing just isn't worth it."

Welcoming today's initiative, British Transport Police Deputy Chief Constable Paul Crowther said: "Level crossing incidents are wholly avoidable and changing driver behaviour is the only sustainable solution.

"While NR is calling for specific level crossing knowledge at the point of testing for drivers, we have been looking at some of the lessons from successful roads policing.

"Research shows that fixed cameras have had a significant effect in reducing speeding offences by up to 70%. We would like to trial placing fixed cameras at hot-spot level crossings to help reduce disruption and the risk to life and limb. If successful they could prove a very cost effective investment."

A Department for Transport spokeswoman said: "Theory test questions are selected at random with no single topic guaranteed because we want candidates to know all the rules of the road rather than just specific areas they know will be covered in the test.

"However - after close consultation with the rail industry - we have recently incorporated more questions in to the theory test on level crossing safety and we have expanded the information on level crossings in the Highway Code.

"In addition, our children's road safety campaign, Tales of the Road, includes guidance on how pedestrians can use level crossings safely."