Traffic accidents are the bane of travel, and engineers are working hard on ways for vehicles to communicate with one another in order to cut back on human error by letting the vehicles do more of the accident avoidance work. In Australia the focus has been on the crossing of train tracks. The reason is because the nation has a surprising number of accidents at railway crossings. There were over 630 accidents in an eight-year period.

Of course, there are fewer accidents at crossings that have flashing warning lights and booms that lower to prevent crossing. The problem is that these warning systems are very expensive and as a result do not exist at every rail crossing. Passive signs – ones that alert the driver to upcoming danger so they can pay more attention – are nowhere near as expensive, but can be missed by drivers. Foggy weather or a drowsy driver can completely negate the value of such a warning sign. The driver may fail to see the sign at all or simply may not have enough visibility to see an oncoming train.

That is why a system is being developed that would allow an oncoming train to alert any cars in the area to its arrival via a wireless connection. The car, in turn, would be outfitted to provide a far stronger warning to the driver, such as a noise that grows louder as both the train and the car approach the intersection.

Tests have shown a great deal of promise, and it may only be another year before new cars in Australia are outfitted with such a rail crossing warning system. It’s the perfect mix of low cost and, at the same time, high warning value. Hopefully, these systems will be able to prevent many of the fatal rail crossing accidents that occur.