Victim's behaviour preceeding and during the suicide

Knowing the type of behaviours a person engaged in prior to their death may help in the identification of effective interventions, including prevention strategies to both reduce access to railway tracks and provide better access to help near tracks.

 

Behaviour within 24h

In order to better plan prevention strategies, it may be useful to know what people did in the hours before they died. The following table summarises information available in the coroners’ files about the whereabouts and behaviours of the suicidal people prior to their death.

Behaviour during the 24 hours prior to death N %
Substance use 116 45.8
Contact with own social network    31 12.3
Came with belongings or left belongings near the tracks 28 11.1
Dispute with family or significant other 23 9.1
Sudden emotional changes 22 8.7
Stopped taking their medication 11 4.3
Put their affairs in order, gave things away, left letters 10 4
Problem with police or unlawful behaviour 7 2.8
Contact with medical or mental health care 6 2.4
Fight or dispute 5 2
Played chicken 1 0.4
Had not slept 1 0.4

 

Vehicle

Suicide victims are mainly pedestrians (94.4%) but this proportion varies by province, with the highest proportion of suicides involving a car in New Brunswick and Québec. 

Percentage of Vehicle Suicides by province

 

Behaviour on tracks

This information comes from descriptions by railway crew members when this information was included in the coroners’ reports. Since most suicides occur in places where there are no other direct witnesses, there is little information on this aspect of the incidents. However, reports indicate that suicide victims tend to run in front of the train, stand or sit on the tracks, lie down across or between the tracks, face the train and look at the driver or turn their back to the train. Some put their head on the track or put their arms out in a cross position. Some were observed walking along the tracks before stepping in front of the train. Activating the whistle does not entice them to move away. The following table gives some indication of the occurrence of the varied observed behaviour.

 Behaviour of the deceased prior to impact N %
Ran out suddenly in front of the train 99 86,1
Lay down on track 80 60,2
Stood or sat on track 79 69,9
Faced the train 57 85,1
Did not move when train whistled 53 52,5
Head on rail 40 80,0
Facing away from train 35 76,1
Looked at the driver / train engine 33 94,3
Walked on the tracks facing train 29 74,4
Placed arms out 22 81,5
Walked along the tracks 19 59,4
Walked on tracks facing away from the train 14 28,6
Gestured toward the driver 10 66,7
Drove across the tracks 10 9,0
Wore a hoody or a walkman 8 38,1
Jumped from a platform 8 88,9
Stopped or parked on tracks 6 75,0
Sitting on a platform 5 62,5
Walked or ran across the tracks 4 7,8
Fell on the tracks 4 36,4
Made contact with the side of the train 4 28,6
Tried to get out of the way 3 16,7
Went around barriers 2 12,5

 

 

Implication for prevention

The descriptions of behaviours during the 24 hours preceeding the suicide and the nature of the suicidal act indicate that it is not possible to prevent these events, other than by completely blocking all access to tracks, which would be extremely costly in Canada. It is possible that this information could help in the design of safety equipment for the front of engines.  However, given the braking time necessary for stopping a train, it appears that the short delay between the initiation of the suicide attempt and the arrival of the train would preclude technical enhancements to allow trains to stop in time to avert a fatality.

This information is also useful to design training and support strategies for crew members who directly witness these events and so that they may be better informed about what is likely to occur in these incidents.