COMMENTARY – Subway Warning Signs: Make Them Tougher

Ross Sandler, Center for New York City Law Director

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

3 thoughts on “COMMENTARY – Subway Warning Signs: Make Them Tougher

  1. Very interesting articles, thank you! If the MTA decided to simply update its signage to more clearly state the dangers involved, but not undertake new physical barriers, then might negligence be more easily applied as it suggests the MTA is well aware of the ‘actual’ dangers involved with trespassing vs the standard ‘Keep Out’ signs?

  2. Probably, but this legal fiction that the railroad is not “well aware of the “actual” dangers involved in trespassing” is just silly. Eventually, the public will wake up to the fact that about 75% of rail deaths are due to trespassing (including suicides) and will demand that railroads (and primarily the public) do more. And they could do plenty if they wanted to. (Barriers, Detection, Enforcement)
    And don’t give me “they surrendered their rights when they endangered themselves”. We spend hundreds of millions to protect drivers at crossings, and they endanger themselves all the time.

  3. After reading this and also the article about the two cases filed on behalf of the two people injured at the Spring Street station, which gives the City’s justification for the trains arriving at high speed, I have another suggestion: at least in some stations, there are emergency buttons along the platform. Could one connect to flashing lights over the tracks in the station when someone waiting for a train spots someone on the tracks? Another suggestion: if people spot someone on the tracks, could they be encouraged to move to the station entry and – carefully – wave their coats or jackets to attract the attention of the train operator that something is amiss and a tragedy needs to be averted?

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