The number of persons killed by contact with subway trains is truly alarming and, worse, consistent year to year. The victims include persons with severe mental problems and drug and alcohol addiction on the one hand, and, on the other hand, adventuresome youths who see romance and challenge in the subways’ dark tunnels, speedy trains and endless tracks. All the deaths are tragedies.
There have been 51 deaths by collisions with subway trains in 2019 through November. There were 68 deaths in 2018 and 46 deaths in 2017. Collision with trains take place outside of the stations, within stations, on the platform and through falls from subway cars. Of the total of 156 collision incidents so far in 2019 there have been 14 suicides and 22 attempted suicides.
The Transit Authority warns of the risks, but with tame signs that tell little about the reality of risk. The ironic illustration to the article on subway injuries on the cover of this issue of CityLaw portrays the yawning gap between the warning signs posted by the Transit Authority and the actual risks of walking on the tracks. The Transit Authority’s sign is about as deterring as a “No Jaywalking” sign. The actual risk is greater: death or dismemberment by collision with a train or electrocution by contact with high voltage electric current.
The Transit Authority does not like to highlight the risks of its system any more than the manufacturers of hairspray like to publicize that aerosol cans may explode and burn your house down. The Transit Authority should nevertheless review its signage and warnings to make sure that its warnings forcefully portray the risks and not just suggest good behavior. Safety requires constant vigilance; better warnings are part of that vigilance.
By: Ross Sandler, Professor and Director of the Center for New York City Law at New York Law School