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ACCIDENT

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Originally appearing in Volume V22, Page 831 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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ACCIDENT STATISTICS Statistics of railway accidents may be divided into three classes: casualties (a) to passengers, (b) to servants or employes and (c) to other persons; and again into (I) train accidents, (2) accidents to persons doing work on or about trains and (3) other accidents. Such statistics are studied mainly with the object of learning the lessons which they may afford as to preventive measures for the future; and from this point of view the most important element is the single item of passengers killed in train accidents (a I). The number injured is, indeed, a fact of interest, no less than the number killed, but comparisons under this head are unsatisfactory because it is impracticable or unprofitable. to go into sufficient detail to determine the relative seriousness of the injuries. The statistics of the killed usually afford all necessary stimulus to improvement. Accidents to passengers other than those caused by collisions or derailments of trains are very largely due to causes which it is fair to class either as unavoidable or as due mainly to the fault or carelessness of the victim himself.- That this is so is indicated by the fact that, although the railways—always made to suffer severely in pecuniary damages for injuries for which their officers or servants are held responsible by the courts—have for years taken almost every conceivable precaution, the number of accidents, in proportion to the number of persons travelling, diminishes but slowly—so slowly that, in view of the variety of conditions to be considered, it would hardly be safe to conclude that the diminution is due to any definite improvement in the safeguards provided. Collisions, on the other hand, are preventable, and derailments nearly so, and the records of deaths and injuries in this class in successive years are therefore justly taken as an index to the efficiency with which the railways are managed. The number of servants killed in train accidents is the next in importance. The safety of passengers is, indeed, the first care of the railway manager; but the employes, exposed to many risks from which the passengers are protected, must be looked after. On the British railways the men who run the trains are safeguarded very efficiently, and the collisions and derailments which are serious enough to do injury to the train-men or the enginemen are really rare. The roadway, tracks and rolling stock are so well maintained that those causes which lead to the worst derailments have been eliminated almost completely, and the record of serious collisions has been reduced nearly to zero by the universal use of the block system and by systematic precautions at junctions. In America the record is far less satisfactory. The best railways of the United States and Canada have, indeed, been greatly improved, and their main lines approach the high standards of safety which prevail in Great Britain, both as regards maintenance and care of roadway and vehicles (as a preventive of derailments) and the use of the block system (as a preventive of collisions); but when the inquirer looks at America as a whole—the total length of lines in the United States being over 230,000 m., ten' times the total of the United Kingdom—he is considering a figure which includes an enormous mileage of railway lying in thinly settled regions where the high standards of safety maintained on the best railways have scarcely been thought of. The duty of a railway with deficient plant or facilities would seem to be to make up for their absence by moderating the speeds of its trains, but public sentiment in America appears so far to have approved, at least tacitly, the combination of imperfect railways and high speeds. Apart from collisions and derailments, a large proportion of all accidents is found to be due primarily to want of care on the part of the victims. Accidents to workmen in marshalling, shunting, distributing and running trains, engines and cars, may be taken as the most important class, after train accidents, because this work is necessary and important and yet involves considerable hazard. On British railways the duty of the companies to provide all practicable safeguards and to educate and caution the servants may be said to have been faithfully performed, and the accident totals must be taken as being somewhat near the " irreducible minimum" —unless some of the infirmities of the human mind can be cured. In America the number of men killed and injured in handling freight trains has been very large. In the year ending June 30, 1909, exclusive of casualties due to collisions, derailments and other accidents to trains, the number killed was 811 and of injured 28,156 (Accident Bulletin, No. 32, p. 14). The number killed (81r) is equal to about three in every thousand trainmen employed. From this and all other causes, the number of trainmen killed in the year ending June 30, 1909, was about 8 in 1000. The use of automatic couplers for freight cars throughout the United States, introduced in 1893-1900, greatly reduced the number of deaths and injuries in coupling, and the use of air brakes on freight cars, now universal, has reduced the risk to the men by making it less necessary for them to ride on the roofs of high box-cars, while at the same time it has made it possible to run long trains with fewer men; but except in these two features the freight service in America continues to be a dangerous occupation. The high and heavy cars, the high speeds, the severe weather in the northern states in winter, the fluctuating nature of the business, resulting often in the employment of poorly qualified men and in other irregularities, are among the causes of this state of things. Being struck or run over by a train while standing or walking on the track is the largest single cause of " railway accidents." Workmen are killed and injured in this way, both while on duty and when going to and from their work; passengers, with or without right, go in front of trains at stations and at highway crossings at grade level; and trespassers are killed and injured in large numbers on railways everywhere, at and near stations, at crossings, and out on the open road, where they have no shadow of right. Of trespassers the number killed per mile of line is about as large in England as in America, the density of population and of traffic in Great Britain apparently counter-balancing the laxity of the laws against trespassing in America. In the thickly settled parts of the United States the number of trespassers killed on the railway tracks, including vagrants who suffer in collisions and derailments while stealing rides, is very large. In New York and four adjacent states, having about as many miles of railway as the United Kingdom, the number in the. year ending June 30, 1907, was 1552. In the United Kingdom the number for the corresponding year was 447, or less than one-third. As was suggested at the outset, railway accident statistics are useful only as showing how to make life and limb safer, though in pursuing this object increased economy should also be secured. Railways have always been held by the legislatures and by the courts strictly accountable for their short-comings, so far as accountability can be enforced by compelling the payment of damages to victims of accidents; but in spite of this, a want of enterprise and even some apparent neglect of passengers' and servants' plain rights, have often been apparent, and the Board of Trade, with its powers of supervision, inspection and investigation, must therefore be classed, as one of the most beneficent factors in the promotion of safety on British railways. Its powers have been exercised with the greatest caution, yet with consistent firmness; and the publicity which has been given to the true and detailed causes of scores and scores of railway accidents by the admirable reports of the Board of Trade inspectors has been a powerful lever in improving the railway service. Useful compulsory laws regarding the details of train management are difficult to frame and hard to carry out; but the Board has exercised a persistent persuasiveness and has secured most of its objects. Its investigations justified the law making the block system compulsory, thus removing the worst danger of railway travel. Its constant and impartial expositions of cases of over-work and insufficient training of employes have greatly helped to elevate the character of these employes. In the United States the governments have done far less. A majority of the states have railway commissions, but the investigation of railway accidents, with comparatively few exceptions, has not been done in such a way as to make the results useful in promoting improved practice. Many of the commissions have done little or nothing of value in this respect. The Federal government, having authority in railway matters only when interstate traffic is affected, gathers statistics and publishes them; but in the airing of causes—the field in which the British Board of Trade has been so useful—nothing so far has been done except to require written reports monthly from the railways. These are useful so far as they go, but they lack the impartiality that would be secured by an inquiry such as is held in England.
End of Article: ACCIDENT
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