Railroad crossings, where roadways intersect with railway tracks, can be deceptively hazardous locations for drivers. While trains are essential for transportation and commerce, they pose significant risks to motorists when safety precautions are disregarded. In this article, we will examine the dangers associated with railroad crossings, provide statistics about accidents involving trains and cars, offer crucial tips for accident prevention, and explain the critical steps to take if your vehicle stalls on a railroad crossing.

The Dangers of Railroad Crossings

Lack of Barrier Awareness:

One of the primary dangers of railroad crossings is the failure to recognize the potential risks. Some crossings lack barriers, such as gates and lights, making it easy for drivers to underestimate the danger.

Visual and Auditory Deception:

Trains can appear deceptively distant and slow-moving, leading drivers to misjudge the time it takes for a train to reach the crossing. Additionally, the sound of an approaching train may be less audible than expected, particularly if there are other noise distractions.

Frequent Train Movements:

Trains operate on established schedules, which means they often pass through crossings at predictable times. However, this predictability can lull drivers into complacency, leading them to take unnecessary risks, assuming they can beat the train.

Statistics on Railroad Crossing Accidents

Understanding the statistics surrounding railroad crossing accidents underscores the importance of vigilance and caution:

According to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), in 2020, there were 1,956 reported accidents at railroad crossings in the United States, resulting in 197 fatalities and 728 injuries.

On average, a train collides with a vehicle at a U.S. railroad crossing approximately every 3 hours.

Roughly 61% of all fatal train-vehicle collisions occur at crossings with active warning devices such as gates and lights, suggesting that even when safety measures are in place, drivers sometimes fail to heed warnings.

State Driving Laws Regarding Railroad Crossings

Each state in the United States has its own set of driving laws and regulations, including those pertaining to railroad crossings. While there are commonalities among state laws, it’s essential for drivers to be aware of and adhere to the specific regulations in their state. Here are some general aspects of state driving laws related to railroad crossings:

Stop When Required: Most states require drivers to come to a complete stop when approaching a railroad crossing if a train is approaching or the warning signals (lights, bells, or gates) are active. Drivers must remain stopped until it is safe to proceed.

Yield Right of Way: Drivers are generally required to yield the right of way to trains. Trains always have the right of way, and drivers must not attempt to cross the tracks in front of an approaching train.

Obey Warning Devices: State laws typically mandate strict compliance with warning devices at railroad crossings. This includes stopping when lights are flashing, bells are ringing, or gates are down. Failure to do so can result in fines and penalties.

No Passing: In many states, it is illegal to pass another vehicle within 100 feet of a railroad crossing. This is to ensure that drivers do not inadvertently find themselves on the tracks.

Posting of Warning Signs: States are responsible for posting appropriate warning signs and signals at railroad crossings. Drivers should be vigilant in observing these signs and signals and obeying their instructions.

Penalties for Violations: Violations of railroad crossing laws can result in fines, points on your driver’s license, and even suspension of driving privileges. Penalties vary by state and the severity of the violation.

Minimum Distance from Tracks: Some states have specific laws regarding the minimum distance a vehicle should stop from the railroad tracks. This distance may vary, so it’s important to be aware of the rules in your state.

Education and Awareness: Some states may require driver education programs to include specific training on railroad crossing safety. Education campaigns are also often conducted to raise awareness about the dangers of railroad crossings.

To ensure compliance with state driving laws related to railroad crossings, it is best to familiarize yourself with your state’s specific regulations. These laws are in place to protect both motorists and train passengers and operators. Failure to obey these laws not only puts your safety at risk but can also result in legal consequences. Always exercise caution, patience, and vigilance when approaching and crossing railroad tracks, and be prepared to stop if necessary.

Tips for Accident Prevention at Railroad Crossings

Obey All Warning Signs and Signals:

When approaching a railroad crossing, adhere to warning signs and signals, including flashing lights, bells, and lowered gates. These devices are there to alert you to an approaching train.

Stop, Look, and Listen:

Before crossing railroad tracks, come to a complete stop. Look both ways along the tracks to ensure no trains are approaching. Listen carefully for any train horns or whistles.

Keep a Safe Distance:

Ensure there is sufficient space between your vehicle and the tracks when stopped. If traffic is backed up, make sure there is enough room for your vehicle to clear the tracks before proceeding.

Avoid Stopping on the Tracks:

Never stop your vehicle on the tracks, even if you anticipate a long wait at a crossing. Trains can arrive sooner than expected, and being on the tracks increases the risk of a collision.

Be Cautious in Low Visibility Conditions:

In fog, heavy rain, or other low-visibility conditions, exercise extra caution at railroad crossings. Reduce your speed, roll down windows to listen for approaching trains, and use your headlights and hazard lights.

Don’t Assume Trains Can Stop Quickly:

Trains require a considerable distance to come to a complete stop. Never attempt to outrun a train or assume that a train can stop abruptly to avoid a collision.

What to Do If Your Vehicle Stalls on a Railroad Crossing

Stalling on a railroad crossing can be a terrifying experience, but knowing how to react can mean the difference between life and death. Follow these steps if your vehicle stalls on the tracks:

Stay Calm:

Despite the panic-inducing situation, try to remain as calm as possible. Panic can hinder your ability to think clearly and act quickly.

Attempt to Restart the Engine:

If your vehicle stalls, attempt to restart the engine immediately. If successful, carefully drive off the tracks.

Exit the Vehicle:

If restarting the engine is not possible, exit your vehicle promptly and move away from the tracks. Head towards a safe location at a right angle to the tracks, so you’re not in the potential path of an oncoming train.

Call for Help:

Use your cell phone to call emergency services and report the stalled vehicle on the tracks. Provide them with your location and the nearest railroad crossing identifier, if available.

Look for Emergency Notification Systems:

Many railroad crossings have emergency notification systems with blue signs that provide a phone number to call in case of a stalled vehicle. If you see one, use it to report the situation.

Stay Clear and Observe:

Once you’ve moved to a safe distance, remain there and observe the tracks for any signs of an approaching train. Trains can be deceptively quiet, so stay vigilant.

Railroad crossings can pose serious dangers to drivers when safety precautions are ignored or underestimated. The statistics surrounding train-vehicle collisions underscore the need for constant vigilance and adherence to safety protocols at these intersections.

By obeying warning signs and signals, practicing caution in low visibility conditions, and knowing how to react if your vehicle stalls on the tracks, you can significantly reduce the risk of accidents at railroad crossings. Always prioritize safety, as the consequences of complacency in such situations can be devastating.