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Mid-America Transportation Center

Distracted highway users at highway-rail grade crossings

Final Report
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Researchers

  • Principal Investigator: Aemal Khattak (akhattak2@unl.edu 402-472-8126)
  • Project Status
    Complete
    About this Project
    Brief Project Description & Background
    Distractions for highway users have increased over the past decade due to widespread availability of electronic gadgets. Distracted use of highways is a major concern for the US Department of Transportation, which describes it as a dangerous epidemic on America's roadways. Significant research emphasis has been on distracted drivers however, pedestrians and bicyclists are also susceptible, especially at highway-rail grade crossings where mistakes could easily result in fatalities. This research will assess incidences of distracted drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists at a study highway-rail grade crossing and suggest feasible strategies on dealing with the issue.
    Research Objective
    The objective of this research is to assess incidences of distracted drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists at highway-rail grade crossings using data collected in the field and provide guidance on countermeasure strategies.
    Potential Benefits
    The research will identify feasible strategies for dealing with distracted users of highway-rail grade crossings, which is the first step toward improving the safety of distracted users of rail crossings.
    Abstract
    The objective of this research is to assess incidences of distracted drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists at highway-rail grade crossings using data collected in the field and provide guidance on countermeasure strategies. Distractions for highway users have increased over the past decade due to widespread availability of electronic gadgets that allow owners to listen to music, talk, text, and use the Internet while on the road. Significant research emphasis has been on distracted drivers however, pedestrians and bicyclists are also susceptible, especially at highway-rail grade crossings where mistakes could easily result in fatalities.

    A total of 2,397 highway-rail grade crossing collisions were reported in 2008, resulting in 286 deaths and more than 900 injuries. Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) statistics show that in 78 of these vehicle-train collisions, the cause was listed as "highway user inattentiveness," resulting in 14 deaths and 117 injuries. Other FRA statistics show that in 488 grade crossing crashes, vehicles ran into trains already present at the crossings. Of those crashes, more than 60 percent were at crossings equipped with either gates or flashing lights, while just over 33 percent occurred at crossings with either stop or crossbuck signs. Although these crashes may have multiple causes, distracted driving appears to be a contributing factor.

    A highway-rail crossing located in Fremont, NE will be studied for distracted drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists by using observers in the field and a video recording system. Additional data will be gathered by surveying a sample of the grade crossing users. This location already has the needed electric power while a new camera and digital video recorder will be installed. Collected data will be analyzed for instances of distracted usage of the crossing by drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists. The results will provide information for the development of an informed strategy on reducing distracted usage of grade crossings.
    Project Amount
    $ 73,372