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Collisions With Trains

Fatalities From Motor-Vehicle Collisions With Trains -- Kansas, 1990-1994

During 1983-1992, a total of 5831 deaths in the United States were attributed to motor-vehicle collisions with trains. * During that same period, Kansas had the third highest death rate in the United States from motor-vehicle collisions with trains, and the annual rate for the state (0.8 per 100,000 persons) was approximately four times the national rate (0.2 deaths per 100,000 persons). To identify approaches for preventing such collisions, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) characterized all fatal motor-vehicle collisions with trains at highway-rail grade crossings ** in the state from 1990 through 1994. This report summarizes the results of that study.

Information about motor-vehicle collisions with trains was obtained from the Federal Railroad Administration and the Kansas Corporation Commission, which receive incident reports from railroads following motor-vehicle collisions with trains. Specific information about drivers involved in fatal collisions with trains (e.g., age, sex, and blood alcohol content {BAC}) was obtained from the Kansas Department of Transportation, the Office of Vital Statistics in the KDHE, and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. Additional information was obtained from published newspaper reports.

During 1990-1994, a total of 510 motor-vehicle collisions with trains occurred in Kansas, representing annual rates of 4.0 collisions per 100,000 persons and 4.2 collisions per 1 billion vehicle-miles driven. Injuries to 233 persons (167 nonfatal and 66 fatal) were reported in 186 (36%) collisions, of which 53 (10%) resulted in at least one fatality. Of these 53 collisions, drivers were killed in 52.

Forty-four (83%) of the 53 motor-vehicle drivers involved in fatal collisions were male; in comparison, 50% of all licensed drivers in the state during 1992 were male (rate ratio=4.9; 95% confidence interval=2.4-10.0). The median age of drivers was 33 years (range: 14-86 years); three (6%) were aged less than 18 years and nine (17%) were aged greater than or equal to 65 years, a pattern of age distribution similar to that for all licensed drivers in Kansas.

Of the 53 collisions that resulted in fatalities, 35 (66%) occurred during daylight, 50 (94%) occurred during fair weather (i.e., clear or cloudy), and 44 (83%) occurred in rural areas. The number of collisions involving fatalities was similar by day of the week and by month of the year.

Fifty (94%) fatal collisions involved freight trains, and three involved the one passenger train service in the state. These trains had a median of three locomotives (range: one to eight locomotives) and 56 cars (range: one to 127 cars) and were traveling at an average estimated speed of 45 mph (range: 0-90 mph) at the time of the collision.

Of the 53 motor vehicles involved in fatal collisions, 32 (60%) were automobiles; 16 (30%), trucks; two (4%), farm tractors; and three (6%), other types of vehicles. Five motor vehicles were stopped or stalled on the railroad tracks at the time of the collision. For the 48 motor vehicles moving at the time of the collision, the median estimated speed was 25 mph (range: 4-75 mph). In 48 (91%) collisions, the motor vehicle was struck by or struck the lead engine of the train; in the remaining five (9%), the motor vehicle struck the side of the train behind the lead engine. In these five side-impact collisions, three occurred at night, one was an apparent suicide, and one occurred after the vehicle skidded 176 feet in an attempt to stop before reaching the rail crossing.

Thirty-two (60%) drivers were killed in a collision in their county of residence, and six (11%) drivers were killed while working. Of the 28 (53%) drivers who were tested postmortem for BAC, detectable levels (greater than or equal to 0.02 g/dL) were present in 10 (19%), including six (11%) who were legally intoxicated (greater than or equal to 0.10 g/dL). The manner of death was specified on the death certificate for 49 drivers: of these, 47 (96%) were considered unintentional injuries or "accidents," *** and two (4%) were considered suicides.

Thirty-three (62%) drivers did not stop at the highway-rail crossing before the collision; two (4%) drivers stopped and then proceeded before the collision. Five (9%) drivers drove behind or in front of a train and struck or were struck by a second train on a parallel set of tracks, and seven (13%) motorists drove around or through crossing gates.

For the 51 grade crossings at which collisions involving fatalities occurred, 49 (96%) crossings had one fatal collision each, and two (3.9%) crossings had two each. All crossings had some type of warning device. At 37 (73%) crossings, passive warning devices were present, including 32 (63%) at which the crossings were marked only by crossbucks (i.e., black and white X-shaped signs that read "Railroad Crossing"). At 14 (27%) crossings, at least one type of active warning device (e.g., gates or flashing lights) was present. In five (9%) collisions, the view of the railroad track was obstructed at the crossing by standing railroad equipment, a passing train, topography, or vegetation.

This information came from a
CDC online article.

*** Any law, statute, regulation or other precedent is subject to change at any time ***

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