Moving goods around the country requires a number of drivers:
More than 3 million people drive trucks in the United States. In fact, according to Steve Viscelli, author of “The Big Rig: Trucking and the Decline of the American Dream” and a lecturer in the Department of Sociology, it’s the No. 1 occupation in 37 of 50 states.
Americans don’t generally pay much attention to infrastructure but the trucking industry may be lower than average on the list of infrastructure components. Outside of complaining about large trucks on the road (driving next to them, the noise they generate), it is difficult to remember that so much of what we purchase comes at least part of the way through trucks. And if trucking all moves to self-driving vehicles, perhaps trucking will become even more faceless.
But, perhaps one way we will hear about the future changes in trucking: a significant loss in jobs. Will drivers be able to transition to new jobs better than millions of manufacturing workers or others who have lost jobs because of a changing economy in recent decades?
As the Chicago Tribune recently remembered a train-school bus collision that killed 7 in 1995, I looked at the statistics on vehicle-train crash fatalities. The numbers have dropped quite a bit in recent decades:
All Highway-Rail Incidents at Public and Private Crossings, 1981-2014
Source: Federal Railroad Administration
* Preliminary statistics
Based on the number of articles I’ve read plus personal experience driving at-grade crossings in the Chicago area (which has many cars driving over railroads tracks each day – in 2014, Illinois had the second most train-vehicle collisions in the country), there are several factors behind this decrease:
- Improved signage at many at-grade crossings.
- More barriers at crossings that make it difficult to go around gates (longer gate arms) or cross into other lanes (barriers in the middle of the road).
- Eliminating at-grade crossings with more underpasses and bridges. These can be expensive but they reduce crashes as well as save time for drivers who don’t have to wait for trains to pass.
Yet, these changes can’t control the actions of drivers as the Chicago Tribune article noted:
But experts say safety is a matter of attitude and awareness, not just signals and signs. That’s the message of groups like Operation Lifesaver and the DuPage Railroad Safety Council, an organization founded by Dr. Lanny Wilson after the death of his daughter at a rail crossing in 1994.
A 2013 University of Illinois at Chicago study found that as many as 4 in 10 Chicago-area pedestrians and bicyclists said they were at times willing to ignore flashing lights, ringing bells and gates at railroad crossings…
Barkan pointed to the Feb. 3 incident in Valhalla, N.Y., when a Metro-North Railroad commuter train struck an SUV at a grade crossing, killing six…
That crash could have been avoided, he said, if the driver had observed the “cardinal rule” of grade crossing safety: “Motorists must never enter a grade crossing until they have a clear exit path that equals or exceeds the length of their vehicle available on the other side of the tracks.”
Reaching zero traffic deaths on the roads also involves continuous improvement at such crossings.
Here is a quick look at some “intricate” intersection designs that are intended to help drivers avoid accidents. These go beyond the “Michigan Left” to the “Jughandle,” the “Superstreet,” and the “Diverging Diamond.”
Here is a little explanation of the difficulty these intersections face:
As you can imagine, these designs are not an easy sell. “It’s a two-fold sale that has to happen,” Sangster tells us. “We’re not going to build these if they’re not safe. We’re also not going to build them if they don’t work better.”
I wonder if the better question is how drivers would react to them. People tend not to like change in their predictable roads. Of course, with repeated exposure people will get better at handling these kinds of intersections and eventually they become normal. (Having some extended experience with the Michigan Left as well as a roundabout, I can attest that they seem strange at first but become second nature pretty quickly.) I could even imagine a situation where a local community comes to regard their “intricate” intersection as a badge of honor, particularly if the intersection is much safer.
There are also cost and construction concerns with these new intersections. Check out an article about a 2010 proposal for a diverging diamond to be installed at Route 59 and I-88 in Naperville that suggests American engineers have been reluctant to be some of the first to spend the money for such intersections.
The battle to control speeders has a new weapon:
On Tuesday, the town [West Vancouver, Canada] unveiled a new way to persuade motorists to ease off the gas pedal in the vicinity of the École Pauline Johnson Elementary School: a 2-D image of a child playing, creating the illusion that the approaching driver will soon blast into a child.
According to Discover magazine, the pavement painting appears to rise up as the driver gets closer to it, reaching full 3-D realism at around 100 feet: “Its designers created the image to give drivers who travel at the street’s recommended 18 miles per hour (30 km per hour) enough time to stop before hitting Pavement Patty — acknowledging the spectacle before they continue to safely roll over her.”
I would be very curious to know how effective this is. While the article suggests that drivers may then be more prone to hit real children, drivers might also just eventually tune out the painting, much as they do with traffic signs.
Another school of thought would suggest measures like this painting are missing the point. What really should change are the structure and design of streets. If you want people to drive more safely, make roads narrower and include parked cars on both sides. Or, one could go as far as European traffic engineer Hans Monderman who advocated removing all traffic signs – since drivers ignore them much of the time anyway, having no signs might force them to pay more attention.