Motorists to blame for rising rate of car-tram collisions

Moving Well | Sue Hewitt | Posted on 07 October 2019

Three cars a day are crashing into trams and motorists are nearly always at fault.

Would you turn your car in front of a herd of stampeding rhinos? Melbourne motorists do something equally as silly every day – turning in front of trams weighing up to 50 tonnes, the equivalent of about 40 rhinos. 

An average of three cars a day collide with trams and almost all these crashes are the motorist’s fault. And figures show the number of tram-car crashes are on the rise.  

Transport Safety Victoria figures show that in 2018 there were 1122 crashes involving trams and cars, resulting in 20 tram passengers suffering serious injuries and accounting for 80 per cent of all injuries on public transport that year. Its figures show the frequency of this type of crash has steadily increased, with 818 crashes in 2014. 

Man sitting in front of broken tram after collision

Authorities are investigating the car and tram crash in Kew on Sunday that derailed a tram, pushing it through a fence, and injured several people.

While the tram in the Kew incident has been involved in two previous crashes with cars that caused it to derail, it is understood investigators believe the only reason for the latest derailment was the crash with a car.

RACV’s manager safety and education Melinda Spiteri says trams are on fixed tracks and can’t move out of the way to avoid a collision with a car.

“All motorists need to be vigilant when driving around trams because trams can be travelling faster than you expect and take longer to stop or slow down than you realise,” she says. 

To keep safe as a tram passenger you should take a seat if one is available or hold on to a rail or safety straps if standing because trams sometimes stop suddenly, she says.

We encourage all motorists to ‘think tram’ when driving along shared roads, and always check before merging or turning right over tram tracks.

A Yarra Trams spokesperson says they were “thankful no one was seriously injured in Sunday’s incident”.

“We encourage all motorists to ‘think tram’ when driving along shared roads, and always check before merging or turning right over tram tracks.”

Public Transport Users’ Association spokesman Daniel Bowen says motorists trying to beat the tram can miscalculate its speed and the amount of space between the tram and parked cars, causing collisions. 

Given that 75 per cent of Melbourne’s tram network is shared with cars, motorists must take care around trams and give them space, he says.

The Department of Transport says 97 per cent of collisions between trams and cars were the fault of motorists and 70 per cent of these incidents were caused by motorists not looking for trams when turning right, doing a U-turn or merging with traffic.

Melbourne’s CBD is a hotspot for car and tram collisions with 226 incidents in 2018, including 77 on Collins Street, 42 on Flinders and Elizabeth Streets, 37 on Bourke Street and 28 on La Trobe Street. 

Five ways to stay safe around trams

  • If you’re a passenger always sit down if a seat is available, and if not, hold on to a rail or safety strap.
  • Take care when getting on or off a tram. Make sure the tram and oncoming traffic have stopped before crossing the road to board a tram. When getting off a tram, cross directly to the nearest footpath and don’t stay on the road longer than necessary. 
  • When driving, be extra cautious if overtaking a moving tram, it may be going faster than you think and be closer to parked cars than it appears.