How a driver destroyed the closing barriers at a Horsham level crossing

On January 8th this year, a driver smashed into the level crossing barriers at Littlehaven station in Horsham. The story was covered by the BBC here.

Drivers have been urged not to jump red lights at level crossings after a vehicle crashed into a gate near a railway station in Horsham. The road was closed for 10 hours and trains were disrupted after the crash near Littlehaven station on Saturday. Network Rail said a vehicle passed through level crossing red lights and hit a gate while it was closing. British Transport Police said a 50-year-old man from Horsham was arrested and bailed until March.

That same driver has now appeared before Crawley magistrates court. The West Sussex County Times has a report (not available online), which appeared in the 21st April edition.

A father of four at the wheel of a Kia people carrier smashed through the level crossing gates as they were closing in Rusper Road near Horsham’s Littlehaven station, a court heard. Debris from one of the shattered gates littered the railway track and services had to be halted after the incident on January 8th. Garry Bates, aged 49, of Ropeland Way, Horsham, pleaded guilty at Crawley magistrates court to dangerous driving, failing to stop after an accident in which damage was done to property, and failing to comply with a stop sign at the crossing. Prosecutor Kelly Murror said: “The gates were in process of closing when the black people carrier went across. It avoided the leading gate, but hit the rear trailing gate.” The barrier was wrecked by the impact and pieces of it were lying across the railway track. The crossing keeper immediately contacted control to stop all services.

Further on in the article, we have the offending driver’s explanation, attempted mitigation, and special pleading.

Robin Loof, defending, said the people carrier had been specially modified to accommodate a disabled child. “My client was not speeding as he approached the crossing and he slowed down as he reached it. He recalls the lights were at amber and he continued forward. It was not a prolonged period of dangerous driving. Mr Bates will no doubt pay a very high price for it. If he loses his licence it will have catastrophic consequences for the whole family.”

Here is a video of the crossing in question, as a train approaches. As you watch it, bear in mind the sentence in bold above.

There are eight seconds between the amber light switching to red, and the gates closing. If it is indeed true that ‘the lights were at amber’ as Mr Bates ‘continued forward’ then it will obviously have taken him at least eight seconds to travel from the stop line before striking the gate. So, if this implausible account is to be believed, he certainly wasn’t speeding – in fact, he would have been travelling at less than walking speed.

I hope the magistrates have seen the timings for this crossing before they consider lending any credence to Mr Bates’ ludicrous claim that he advanced onto the crossing while the lights were at amber – the obvious reality is that he drove onto the crossing when the lights were red, and when they had been red for some considerable time. That is the only way he could have ended up destroying the gates as they were closing.

The case is going to be considered at Lewes Crown Court at a later date. I am interested to see whether any leniency will be applied to Mr Bates in the light of his special pleading regarding his disabled child, and also whether his gigantic fib is accepted.

I also note, in passing, that dangerous driving of this kind is probably a consequence of the way that obedience to traffic signals at ‘ordinary’ junctions is almost totally unenforced. On my regular journeys across Horsham, I find that at nearly every junction, a driver will be chancing it through a red light, largely because they can get away with it. Mr Bates clearly extended this logic to a railway – he felt that he could chance it through a red light at a level crossing in just the same way that countless other drivers chance their way through red traffic signals. He was caught out.

This entry was posted in Dangerous driving, Horsham, The judiciary. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to How a driver destroyed the closing barriers at a Horsham level crossing

  1. Kim says:

    I can never understand why dangerous driving is tolerated, no other criminal activity is treated with such tolerance by the courts. The attitude should be , if you don’t want to take the punishment don’t break the law.

  2. Yes, it is probably related to normal signs: railway crossings are the only lights where you really have to stop, and people may get complacent.

    But, after living in the US for some time -where people can turn right on red- I don’t think it’s the only issue. The other one is that there aren’t that many level crossings and we aren’t used to them any more. In the US, there are lots of them, and you know to be cautious when approaching them, to expect a red, and if it comes, stop. Indeed, when taking my US test the examiner noted that I wasn’t being cautious enough by them, while letting going through on a normal light on amber while changing lanes pass except for the UK habit of turning off the indicator before the operation is finished.

    More level crossings may lead to more caution. On the other hand, so does enforcement of breaking the rules, which means removing the license of drivers who drive through the gates. If someone is dangerous here, they’re probably dangerous elsewhere too.

    • stabiliser says:

      There are plenty of level crossings in the Horsham area (don’t know what it’s like around Bristol), all of which have been around for 50+ years, so I don’t think, around here at least, we can claim that we aren’t used to them. Like you say, the real explanation probably lies in lax enforcement of driving offences at other signalled junctions, and lack of serious deterrent.

  3. And another big problem is that apparently the gates are a bit weak. Think about what would have happened had a train been there. Given the size of the truck apparently, it could have derailed the train and caused a massive crash, likely with deaths. I found that the US has a couple crossings outfitted with railway boom gates that actually lock into place with a mechanism. If you hit them, even going 70 km/h in a pick up truck, you will stop in 4 metres or less. I don’t know how solid they are against a 12 tonne truck, but perhaps with some reinforcing, they could work. In the US if the level crossing is outfitted like that, the maximum speed of the trains, assuming everything else is in order, can go up to 125 mph, or 200 km/h by law.

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