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Railway signals passed at danger: psychology matters

BMJ 2000; 320 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.320.7248.1549 (Published 03 June 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;320:1549
  1. Glin Bennet, formerly senior lecturer and consultant psychiatrist
  1. Bristol

    Seventy five per cent, eighty per cent. Over the years this is the seemingly unvarying proportion of transport accidents ascribed to human factors. Investigations are meticulous, the engineers take care to see that every nut and bolt is studied, yet so often the conclusion is the same: “human failure.”

    This seems to be accepted as an explanation, and with it the matter can be closed. For any psychiatrist, reports of odd behaviour, such as driving a car or a train through a red light, are merely the beginning of an investigation, a warning that there may be problems below the surface.

    In the aftermath of the Paddington rail disaster in October 1999, attention has been focused on signalling systems, and rightly so. The assumption seems to be that if the signals and …

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