The season for motorcycles is upon us. The month of May is Motorcycle Awareness Month.
Some say motorcycles are dangerous. I say that’s ka-ka! It’s the rider who can be dangerous. Statistics show that the percentage of intoxicated motorcycle riders in fatal crashes is greater than the percentage of intoxicated drivers on our roads. Shall we blame the motorcycle for that? Riders are not supposed to ride between lanes of traffic, but they do. Is that the motorcycles fault? I will never understand why we fail to put the blame where it belongs.
The licensing procedure for motorcycles is also a problem. From personal experience I can tell you that DMV examiners who conduct road tests for cyclists, quite often, do not possess motorcycle licenses. Yet, somehow, the DMV feels they are qualified to judge applicants for an MC license.
I recall one experience where the applicant made very wide circles. The examiner asked me why some applicants made wide circles and others made tight circles. I explained to him that it takes more skill to make a tight circle. On another occasion, the cyclists wasn’t able to get the bike started. He kept kicking and kicking but it wouldn’t start. The examiner asked me what the problem was.. He thought the bike was defective. I explained that the applicant failed to turn on the gas valve.
The biggest problem with the testing procedure is not the lack of qualifications of the examiner but the procedure itself. An applicant can take a test on a small Honda with an engine of 100cc. If he passes the test he receives a license that qualifies him/her to ride a 1000cc Harley. Absurd. It’s like testing someone in a car, which would then qualify them to drive a tractor-trailer.
To add insult to injury, mopeds (limited use motorcycles) are classified by their range of speeds. There are three classifications for the inconsequential moped but only one for any size motorcycle. Does that make any sense?
Keep in mind that 25 percent of motorcycle riders involved in fatal crashes are riding their vehicles without valid motorcycle licenses at the time of the collisions.
You should also know that signal lights on a motorcycle do not turn off automatically as they do in a car. The rider has to turn it off. Quite often they don’t remember to do so. Beware of cyclists who are signaling. It might not mean what you think it means.
There’s lots of blame to go around when it comes to colliding with motorcycles, and the DMV needs to share some of it.
Crashing is the #1 Killer of Teens
NY State, as do many other states, allow teenagers to get driving licenses at age 16, albeit a junior license. They do place restrictions on such licenses but, as is often the case, these rules are just feel good rules that do nothing to insure safety on the roads.
For instance, NY law requires teens to have 30 to 50 hours of supervised instruction before going for a road test. I can tell you from personal experience that the parent just has to sign the form. No proof that the training was actually given is required.
On Long Island, once in possession of a junior license, teens may drive unsupervised if going from home to a job or school. In upstate counties, they are allowed to drive unsupervised for any reason between the hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. From 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. they can only drive from home to work. In the five boroughs of New York City, teens with a junior license are not allowed to drive under any circumstances at any time.
Such laws are not strong enough to fully protect new teen drivers and other users of the road. Half of all teens will be involved in a car crash before graduating from high school. That crash may involve you. The fatal crash rate of 16-year-olds is nearly twice as high at night, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Most of these tragic crashes happen relatively early – between 9 p.m. and midnight. In the United States, the first six months after getting a license are the most dangerous times and risk remains high during the first year. Until young drivers turn 25, their crash risk remains two to three times higher than for adults.
Some years ago, NY State formed a Commission to investigate ways to improve teen safety on the roads. After much study at a high cost, it was suggested that high school students be required to take a driver education course. However, the Commission did not make it mandatory because, as they stated, it would impose a financial burden on the schools. To implement a mandatory driver-education program would mean that other extra-curricular activities would need to be curtailed; activities such as football, soccer and badminton. (I guess more teenagers die playing football, soccer and badminton than driving cars). One must conclude that teen safety is not all that important when compared to popular sports. In truth, again from personal experience, driver-education is not all that effective. Driving instruction, in general, is not of a high caliber. With driver-ed the result is worse because the student gets a senior license with full driving privileges one year earlier and exposes novice drivers earlier to a greater risk. As a matter of fact, many view driver education as counterproductive and support for it as a mandatory requirement for licensing has declined over the years.
So why do parents allow their teens to drive at such an early age? It is clear that families can benefit from teenage drivers who can transport themselves to jobs and school activities and run errands. The economic value of such activities by drivers in the 16- to 17-year age group has not been estimated, but it is clearly of substantial value to families and their teenagers.
Studies on teen driving are plentiful. In one study it was noted that 60 percent of respondents said they drive to relax and 50 percent reported driving without a destination in mind, suggesting substantial unsupervised recreational driving, which mind you, is banned by law for junior operators.
For awhile, teens behind the wheel was on a decline. It was surmised that teen unemployment was the reason. Today, according to the IIHS, teen driving is on the rise. What to do? You need to be aware that with more novice drivers on the road YOUR risk for a crash increases. Be vigilant, Don’t drive distracted, don’t drive drunk and don’t drive drowsy.
1.2 million people are killed annually, world-wide in traffic crashes. 33,000 of them occurred in the U.S. 33,000 people would represent the number of people killed if a 737 airplane fell out of the sky five days a week. So, if you ask Google (the leader in this field) why they’re developing driverless cars, that is, cars that are capable of driving from point to point without driver input they will tell you that since more than 92 percent of car crashes are due to driver error. it’s all about making driving safer. That is an argument that is open to debate.
First of all, in the near future when AVs need to be on the road with non-AVs, that is, unpredictable human drivers, traffic concerns will get a bit more complicated. According to an AAA survey, 84 percent of respondents said they would trust their own driving skills rather than technology.
Human instinct behind the wheel is invaluable. There are too many unknown variables when driving, such as, traffic congestion, weather conditions, sudden lane changes from another driver or an intoxicated driver etc. Computers are unable to act like the human mind in a time of crisis. An AV takes away a sense of responsibility, but when we drive we must be diligent and watchful of changing conditions. In an AV, being able to override autonomy is a must. Control is still a major factor in the feeling of safety.
There comes to mind the case of the Mercedes self-driving car, affectionately known as Bertha Benz. When Bertha was about to enter a highway, it recognized a car on her side radar, but what she didn’t comprehend was that an aggressive driver was not going to let her in because he apparently was engrossed in other matters. The Mercedes would have hit the brakes and come to a complete stop in the acceleration lane if the driver hadn’t intervened by stepping on the gas and swinging in behind the aggressive driver.
We have too many people getting into collisions. But, with less control on the part of the driver, training will be diminished, which means that when there are circumstances where the driver needs to take control, they won’t know enough about driving to do so. We already see this when people are not sufficiently trained to handle icy conditions, and now they won’t be able to do so in dry weather. So rather than do a better job of training and tightening licensing regulations, the trend will be relieve drivers of responsibility.
Consider the fact that human drivers instinctively act in their best interests. An AV will probably have to be programmed for the greater good – i.e. – to save the greatest number of lives in a potential crash situation. Not good for a driver alone in a vehicle where there is a potential for a crash involving multiple other vehicle occupants or pedestrians.
Another issue is that AVs ultimately depend on systems that can only be fine-tuned so much. A self-driving car knows that it has to start braking when it’s a certain distance away from another vehicle, but it doesn’t know how much tread is left on its tires, or if there’s a puddle up ahead. Too many people don’t properly maintain their vehicles when they’re the ones at the wheel, and that will probably get worse when they don’t have to think about driving.
It should also be noted that some of the scenarios AVs have the most trouble with are the scenarios human beings have the most trouble with, such as traversing all-way stop signs or handling a yellow light (do you brake suddenly, or floor it and run the light)?
Another consideration is the fact that nearly two-thirds of the country’s roads are in poor condition, according to the US Department of Transportation. Without lane markings to guide it, AVs refuse to drive itself. How does a self-driving car stay in a lane with no lane markers?
Is it also too far fetched to think that driverless cars could be used to transport explosive by terrorists?
Even if in a few years self-driving cars are proven to be ten times safer than human-operated cars, all it’s going to take is one tragic crash and the public is going to lose their minds. There will be outrage.
But, here’s the good news. Most experts say widespread use of AVs is about 10 to 15 years away. So, if you’re like me, in the third trimester of life, we will not be around to have to deal with this technology.
Some high-end cars already have self-driving technology that are forerunners to the full driverless car. They include:
Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS)- allows the wheels on a motor vehicle to maintain contact with the road surface according to driver inputs while braking, preventing the wheels from locking up (ceasing rotation) and avoiding uncontrolled skidding.
Electronic Stability Control (ESC)- Working with ABS, ESC is a computerized system that applies appropriate braking to reduce skidding and keeps the vehicle on its intended course.
Forward Collision Warning- Lasers, radar and/or cameras asses the possibility of a crash and alert the driver to brake.
Auto Emergency Braking- In some systems, if the driver doesn’t respond to the warning, the brakes will be applied automatically.
Lane Keeping Assist- If the driver fails to signal for a lane change, a mild steering input is activated to keep the car in the lane.
Adaptive Cruise Control- This automatically adjusts the car’s speed in relation to the car in front.
Rearview Back-up Cameras- provides visibility of objects such as bicycles, small children, the neighbor’s cat and other assorted hazards that can lurk behind a car.
Parking Sensors- Whether mounted in front or in the rear, these radar-based sensors detect when the vehicle approaches a hazard and issue a warning beep.
Side-view assist. If the driver doesn’t turn his head before changing lanes, sensors can detect a car in the “blind spot” and then issue an alert with a light in the side mirror or with a beep if the turn signal is engaged .
The New York Times reports:
Google, Uber, Tesla and a host of automakers have been moving at full speed to develop driverless technologies. Although the federal government has expressed support, it has so far left regulatory decisions to state and local governments.
“Paradoxically, despite a lot of cities thinking this technology is coming, very few have started to plan for it,” Mr. Mitchell said.
Last week, Anthony Foxx, the United States transportation secretary, pledged that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would help set standards for fully automated vehicles within the next six months.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and Deputy Inspector Kevin Maloney meet at Northern Boulevard and 61st Street where an 8-year-old was struck and killed in the crosswalk while walking to school.
I received a copy of Vision Zero Cities: International Journal of Traffic Safety Innovation. It includes cutting-edge information from experts around the world. What follows is my letter to the editor of the Journal In which I explain my take on Vision Zero:
If you want to achieve Vision Zero, you need to take the profit motive out of crashing. There are people who go to work in the morning depending on crashes; doctors, nurses, lawyers, insurance people, tow-truck drivers, ambulance drivers, car dealers, funeral directors, florists and, yes, even driving instructors. The thing is the cities and states have a financial interest in all the transactions that flow from a crash. Read the bills presented to the legislature and at the very bottom there will be an item titled, fiscal impact. In other words, does this bill make money for the state or will it cost money?
As long as there are people who make a living from crashes, nothing will change. Vision Zero is just a feel good concept to make people think the government cares about their safety. It doesn’t! Why is it still legal to kill with a car? Why don’t the police enforce Ellie’s Law, Cooper’s Law and the new Right-of-way Law? As I see it, they don’t want to discourage drivers from crashing. They want drivers to know, that in the main, there will be no negative consequences for injuring or killing someone with your car.
Moreover, NY State as does so many others, actually encouraging crashing by telling drivers its okay to drive distracted. You doubt that statement? When the only thing banned is holding a phone and not talking on a phone, states are, in effect, encouraging distracted driving, which would hopefully lead to a crash, which in turn would enhance the Treasury. Every survey ever conducted on the subject proved that there is no difference between a hand-held phone conversation and a hands-free conversation. The conversation is the distraction!
In 2013, Jill Abramson, the former editor of the New York Times, who was hit while walking, testified at a conference of the New York Society for Ethical Culture, that “pedestrian deaths are the perfect crime….usually nothing happens not even a traffic tickets.” Manhattan DA, Cyrus Vance, Jr. declined to even attend the meeting.
At that meeting, DOT Traffic Commissioner, Polly Trottenberg, took “pride” in having traffic deaths reduced from 180 to 134. In 2014, when 36 people died from Hepatitis A it was called an epidemic. In Madagascar, when 40 people died from Bubonic Plague, it was called an epidemic. In 2009, when 49 people died from Hepatitis B, it was called an epidemic. In 1972, when 36 people died in Yugoslavia from smallpox, it was called an epidemic. But in 2016, our politicians want a pat on the back for “only” 134 deaths. Shame on them.
So there you have it. Are these the ravings of a lunatic? I think not. I’ve just been in this industry for a long time and I am dismayed that killing with a car is legal and accepted. I testified at a NYC Council hearing on this subject and told the members that I feel irrelevant. Why bother teaching people how to drive safely, if killing with a car is okay? If they wanted to be honest, the State should discard written tests, road tests, mandatory classes and just issue licenses when the fee is paid. It shouldn’t really matter if they know how to drive. Why should hitting a pedestrian be grounds for immediate failure on a road test, it it’s okay to do so once you have a license?
Speed Limits Do Not Apply to Night Driving
Night driving is more dangerous than daytime driving. Most experts would agree with that statement! However, I am of the opinion that each type of driving has its advantages and disadvantages.
During the day it’s easier to see pedestrians than at night. But, at night it’s easier to see cars (if they have their lights on). For instance, at a stop sign you will see the spray of the headlights of an oncoming car way before you see the actual car. That gives you an extra margin of safety. It’s also easier to spot a parked car that may be pulling out. A parked car with its lights on is not a parked car. It’s a potential hazard because the driver may pull out without signaling or even looking. So, again, seeing lights on a parked car at night, gives you an extra margin of safety.
At night, the big danger is not seeing pedestrians, especially if they’re wearing black clothes. You should also realize that you aren’t able to see as far ahead at night as you can in the daytime. Even with high-beam headlights on, visibility is limited to about 500 feet (250 feet for low-beams) creating less time to react to something in the road.
Compromised visibility is reason enough to drive slower at night. The problem is that speed limit signs aren’t changed at night so drivers mistakenly think the speed limit applies to night driving as well. It does not! Remember, the speed limit does not tell us what speed to drive at. The speed limit is the maximum speed allowed under the best and ideal conditions. Driving at night is NOT an ideal condition because of the difficulty to see pedestrians and drivers who fail to put their lights on. So, slow down to compensate for limited visibility and reduced stopping time
It might interest you to know that in Florida the speed limit signs on highways do change when darkness falls. The signs have built in sensors similar to your headlights that go on automatically at night.
Another danger is the glare of headlights on oncoming cars. This is more of a problem for older drivers than younger ones. A 50-year-old driver may need twice as much light to see as well as a 30-year-old. At age 60 and older, driving can become even more difficult, according to the American Optometric Association. Some older drivers also may have compromised vision due to cataracts and degenerative eye diseases. When this is the case, you should limit your driving to the daytime hours.
The law mandates that only low beams should be used in city driving. On highways and dark rural roads, its permissible to use the high beams, but even then, you must dim your lights when you get within 500 feet of an oncoming car or a car in front of you. If oncoming drivers don’t know or don’t care about the law and don’t dim their lights when they approach, don’t retaliate with your high-beams. Instead, just look down and to the right to avoid looking at those lights. This is perhaps the only time you should not look far ahead when driving.
You can also make night-driving safer by dimming you dashboard lights. But, above all, slow down. Always drive at the right speed for the conditions. And remember, you can be the condition if you’re sleepy or fatigued or otherwise impaired.
UPDATE: (Adaptive Headlights)
Standard headlights shine straight ahead, no matter what direction the car is moving. When going around curves, they illuminate the side of the road more than the road itself.
Adaptive headlights react to the steering, speed and elevation of the car and automatically adjust to illuminate the road ahead. When the steering wheel is turned right, the headlights turn right. Turn the wheel left, the headlights turn left. This is important not only for the driver of the car with adaptive headlights, but for other drivers on the road as well.
The glare of oncoming headlights can cause serious visibility problems. Since adaptive headlights are directed at the road, the incidence of glare is reduced.
So called experts would have you believe that it’s safer to drive on familiar roads, that is, roads that you know. Ka-Ka, as I call it. There is no such thing as a familiar road! It simply doesn’t exist. Conditions change day by day, hour by hour and moment by moment. Yesterday it was open, today it’s closed.
When you drive down a “familiar” city street, how do you “know” if a car is going to pull out, or if a pedestrian is about to cross or if a giant pothole developed overnight? When you drive on a highway how do you “know” if one lane is blocked due to a crash or construction? The simple answer is that you don’t, unless you pay close attention to your driving. And, that is the problem. Drivers who “think” they know the road they’re on don’t pay attention. This is why they feel they can drive distracted. They engage in activities that have nothing to do with driving, e.g., talk on a cell phone, take care of personal grooming, fiddle with entertainment controls, and a whole host of other misguided behaviors.
The simple truth is that driving requires your undivided attention, every block or mile you travel. Ask yourself, how is it possible that a driver who drives the same road to work every day, twice a day, five days a week, winds up in a collision? You would think that they would be able to navigate those roads with their eyes closed. And that’s exactly what they do! Driving distracted is like driving with your eyes closed because at that moment you see nothing that pertains to your driving.
Ever wonder why blind people can’t get driving licenses? It’s because “observation” is the name of the game. People you talk to will probably tell you “speed” is the name of the game. More Ka-Ka! Anybody can press a gas pedal and make the car go fast. That really takes no skill. The truly good driver is one who is observant, watchful and attentive.
I personally witnessed an outrageous example of what I’m writing about. If any of you are familiar with the toll lanes on the Throggs Neck Bridge you know that for a long time cash lanes were in the middle and EZ Pass lanes were on both sides. One fine day, they decided to change the pattern. EZ Pass lanes were all on the left and all cash lanes were on the right. Big, yellow signs were posted alerting drivers to the change. Well, as I was approaching the EZ Pass toll , I saw a cart traveling laterally across all the lanes. The car was going from the EZ Pass lanes to the cash lanes. Can you figure why? It should be obvious! The driver never saw the signs and was totally unaware of the change. Can you imagine the hazard that was created by this car traveling across the lanes? All because the driver “knew” the road and never saw the warning signs.
I say again, there is no such thing as a familiar road. Driving is a full time job whether it be in your neighborhood or traveling cross-country! Use your eyes, pay attention. Don’t become complacent and think you “know” the road. It’s simply not possible.
In the beginning, streets in America were public spaces. Before the advent of the automobile, city streets were vibrant places with a multitude of users and uses that included children at play and pedestrians at large.
When the automobile first showed up it was seen as an intruder and a menace. Browse through accounts in the New York Times of pedestrians dying after being struck by automobiles prior to 1930, and you’ll see that in nearly every case, the driver is charged with something like “technical manslaughter. And it wasn’t just New York. Across the country, drivers were held criminally responsible when they killed or injured people with their vehicles. Editorial cartoons regularly depicted the Grim Reaper behind the wheel and terms like “road-hog” and “speed-demon” were common. That image persisted well into the 1920s
Historically, the principles of common law applied to crashes. In the case of a collision, the larger, heavier vehicle was deemed to be at fault. The responsibility for crashes was always placed on the driver. Public opinion was on the side of the pedestrian. There was a lot of anger in the early years and a lot of resentment against cars for endangering streets.
By 1930, most streets were primarily for motor vehicles where children did not belong. From the 1910s to the 1930s, a broad anti-automobile campaign reviled motorists as “road hogs” or “speed demons” and cars as “juggernauts” or “death cars.” Police had to become “traffic cops. The transition of streets as the exclusive domain of autos wasn’t evolution; it was more a bloody and sometimes violent revolution fueled by the auto industry.
If you ask people today what a street is for, they will say cars, which is practically the opposite of what they would have said 100 years ago. The automobile industry lobbied to promote the adoption of traffic statutes to supplant common law. The statutes were designed to restrict pedestrian use of the street and give primacy to cars. The idea of “jaywalking” – a concept that had not really existed prior to 1920 – was enshrined in law. Streets were systematically and deliberately shifted by the automobile industry, as was the law itself. Collisions became accidents.*
The problem with the term “accident,” of course, is that it implies no one is at fault — that traffic injuries and deaths are just random, unpreventable occurrences and should be accepted as contributing to the loss of life.
In 198i7, I copyrighted an acronym, which is still tells it like it is: Most “accidents” are
C- Crashes that are
C- Caused by
I- Ignorance, (a lack of knowledge)
D- Drunkenness (from all types of drugs)
E- Errors (a lack of physical skills)
N- Negligence (a lack of mental skills) and/or
T- Thoughtlessness (whether it be from anger, frustration, distractions, or daydreaming)
On June 8 1997, at the opening of the Lifesavers Conference in Orlando, Florida, Ricardo Martinez, M.D., the Administrator of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) kicked off a nationwide campaign “Crashes Aren’t Accidents” to encourage removal of the word “accident” from our vocabulary. In a short time, numerous organizations representing thousands of supporters joined the Administrator and literally “signed onto” the Proclamation as well.
Today, safe street advocates such as New York’s Transportation Alternatives (of which I am a member) spend a lot of time and energy trying to get people to take pedestrian fatalities seriously. A concerted effort is being made to stop calling them accidents and start calling them crashes. Crashes have causes and contributory factors, accidents have excuses. Using ‘accident’ encourages a sense of fatalism.
In 2012, on behalf of Transportation Alternatives (TA), I testified at a NY City Council hearing, which dealt with the lack of police investigations into “accidents.” I told the Council members that “I feel irrelevant. If drivers can injure and kill people with impunity because it’s just an accident, then why should I bother teaching people how to drive safely? Moreover, if there is nothing wrong with hitting a pedestrian, why should it be grounds for immediate failure on a road test. In fact, why conduct road tests at all? Once you have a license it doesn’t seem to matter if you know how to drive or not.”
“Families for Safe Streets,” and arm of TA, is comprised of victims of traffic violence and families whose loved ones were killed or severely injured by aggressive or reckless driving and dangerous conditions on New York City’s streets. They demand an end to traffic violence. They banded together in early 2014 to turn their grief into action and were instrumental in lowering the citywide speed limit in New York City, among other critical safety initiatives.
The NYPD adopted a policy to stop using the term “accident” to describe traffic collisions. Even former NYC Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, notorious for turning a blind eye to traffic violence, issued a statement that the term ‘accident’ has sometimes given the inaccurate impression or connotation that there is no fault or liability associated with a specific event
A majority of fatal crashes are caused by intoxicated, speeding, distracted, or careless drivers and, therefore, are not accidents. More importantly, characterizing crashes as accidents, when a driver was intoxicated or negligent, may impede the recovery of crash victims by preventing them from assigning blame.
Using the term “crash” does not presume innocence or guilt If no one was at fault in a collision, this should be proved. “Crash” suggests something unintentional, and most collisions certainly are not premeditated. But it also suggests something that was beyond control; an incident with an excuse embedded within it. The phrase “it was just an accident” serves both as a claim of innocence and as an exoneration. Use of the term ‘accident’ is inappropriate until all the facts of the case are known
*To explore this subject deeper, read ‘Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City,” by Peter Norton, an assistant professor at the University of Virginia .
In prior blogs I wrote about drivers who run red lights and drivers who abuse the right-turn-on-red law. There is another red-light situation that can kill you the railroad crossing.
Level crossing crashes make up some of the country’s worst road tragedies and they are not rare occurrences. A train hits a person or a car somewhere in our country about once every three hours,
In 2015, there were 2,059 collisions between trains and cars at street grade crossings, in which 244 people were killed and 967 people were injured, according to Federal Railroad Administration (FRA – part of the U.S. Department of Transportation). You should know that a motorist is almost 20 times more likely to die in a crash involving a train than in a collision involving another motor vehicle. The flashing red lights at railroad crossing is a signal you really should obey.
The sad reality is that:
- Drunk and distracted drivers are not aware of the danger at railroad crossings. ‘Nuff said!
- But, then there are sober drivers who don’t respect warning lights. Those flashing lights are just another delaying inconvenience and so they attempt to drive around the crossing gates, believing they have sufficient time to cross the tracks and “beat the train.” Such behavior is foolish and (frankly) idiotic. When playing a game of “chicken” with a train, the train will never back down. But, just before every crash drivers think, “I can make it!”
- It’s ironic but there is a driving syndrome known as the “choo-choo-train-effect. Drivers think they are attached to the car in front of them. Drivers in congested stop-and-go traffic, keep inching up with the car in front and don’t pay attention to the fact that they may not clear the tracks and then find themselves trapped when the gates come down.
Such was the case of a driver in Valhalla NY who drove onto the tracks and then the arm came down on to the back of her car. According to witnesses, instead of driving forward she decided to inspect the damage to her car. When she got back in the car, she unhurriedly, took the time to buckle her seat belt and then got hit by an oncoming train.
Sometimes vehicles can get stuck on tracks unintentionally. They might get stuck in snow or the engine may stall and not restart.
If you are ever forced to stop on train tracks, for whatever reason, heed this information:
1- Get out of the vehicle. Do not honk your horn and expect the train to stop; a train will not be able to come to a complete stop immediately. Even if it is slowing down, it will still plow through you before it can come to a stop. However, a 150-car freight train, traveling at 50 miles per hour will take over a mile to stop! Do not attempt to play chicken with a moving train, not even commuter trains. It’s not backing down; you must. Get out of the car, and tell any passengers do to the same.
2- Do not stop to take anything with you. Do not risk your life to gather objects from the back seat (unless they are infant passengers). You may be too late. You may want to take a cell phone if it is in easy reach.
3- Run towards the direction from which the train is coming. This may sound counter-intuitive but, do not attempt to run away from the train. When the train collides with your car, the wreckage may fly through the air and hit you. Run in the opposite direction and at 45o angle (not parallel with the tracks — see image below) because trains overhang the tracks by about three feet. Also, when you run toward the train, you run away from the site of the potential collision.
At every railroad crossing, you’ll find an equipment box with the crossing location and a phone number on it. If you get stuck, call that number immediately. That lets the people in charge know exactly what crossing you’re at and they can get a hold of the train and tell the engineer what to do.
The lesson to be learned here is to drive safe and expect the unexpected at train crossings. If you need more convincing you can watch the horror of train-car collisions on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRsJ_ehDTC8
UPDATE: March 2016– Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for eliminating grade crossings on commuter rail lines, calling the street-level intersections “dangerous” and saying everybody should be “ashamed” that they still exist. “That we have allowed the grade crossings to continue as long as they have on Long Island, as dangerous as they are, we should all be ashamed,” Cuomo said. “The local elected officials should be ashamed. The safety groups should be ashamed. Parents should be ashamed. Everybody should be ashamed.”
Cuomo’s comments were specific to the LIRR rail system but the issue is common in the Hudson Valley, too: There are 17 highway-rail grade crossings on the Metro-North Railroad in Westchester and Putnam counties, as well as 28 in Dutchess County. A crash in February of 2015 at a grade crossing in Valhalla (Westchester County) left six dead and 28 injured.
“Fix the grade crossings. It’s not rocket science,” the governor said. “The road can go under the train. The road can go over the train. Whatever the local community wants, we’ll do. But the grade crossings should be safe and it shouldn’t take another terrible accident. crash”
Many years ago, when the seat belt law was fist enacted, drivers complained bitterly about getting tickets for not buckling up. Their argument was that we never had to do it before and we need time to get into a new habit. The same argument surfaced when NY City was included in stopping for school buses. Again, drivers said we never had to do it before and we need time to get into a new habit. However, when the right-turn-on-red law was passed, drivers didn’t need any time to get used to going through red lights. They were real happy to do so.
During the oil and energy crises of the 1970s, the U.S. federal government encouraged jurisdictions to allow right-turns-on-red (RTOR) as a fuel saving measure. The Federal Highway Administration estimated that right-turns-on-red would save between 1 and 4.6 seconds of idling for each driver at a red light.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) allowing RTOR is dangerous especially for pedestrians and bicyclists. Studies conducted after states first adopted RTOR laws found that allowing RTOR increased pedestrian and bicyclist collisions at intersections by 43-123 percent. An analysis of intersection crashes in four states found that RTOR crashes frequently involved pedestrians and bicyclists, and 93 percent of these crashes resulted in injuries to the pedestrians and bicyclists. While 44 percent of fatal RTOR crashes involved a pedestrian, 10 percent involved a bicyclist.
33 percent of fatal RTOR crashes involved two vehicles, so the risk for drivers is also increased. A survey by walkinginfo.org. found that at locations where RTOR is allowed, 56.9 percent of drivers do not come to a complete stop before turning on red. That’s no surprise since many drivers treat RTOR as the same as making a right turn from a stop sign. However, there is a big difference. Do you know the elements that are necessary to be able to make a RTOR? Here they are and keep in mind we’re talking about State Law:
- You can make a RTOR everywhere in NY State except in NY City.
- You can make a RTOR if there is no sign prohibiting it.
- You can make a RTOR provided you make a FULL stop first.
- You can make a RTOR provided there is no vehicular or pedestrian traffic in SIGHT.
Element #4 is the big difference. At stop signs, you’re allowed to make the right turn even if traffic is approaching, if you feel you have enough time to make the turn safely. Not so with the RTOR. If you see traffic and think you can turn safely, YOU MAY NOT MAKE THE TURN. The reasoning for such a rule is understandable; a stop sign will never turn green for you so you do have to make a judgment call – but the traffic light will turn green so there is no pressure to make the turn while it’s red.
Another element of State Law is that making a RTOR is OPTIONAL, not mandatory. All the elements may be in place, but if you want to wait for the green you may do so…even if the ignorant horn blowers behind you are telling you to go. They are ignorant because they don’t know the law. But, now you do.
NHTSA says there are a relatively small number of deaths and injuries each year caused by turn-on-red crashes. These represent a very small percentage of all crashes, deaths, and injuries. The problem with percentages is that if you’re the one involved in a crash, for you it represent 100 percent.
Insufficient data exist to analyze the left turn on red (LTOR). Oh, you didn’t know you could make a LTOR? Well, you can, if both streets, the one you’re on and the one you’re turning into are ONE-WAY STREETS. Of course, all the other elements cited above need to be in place.
This blog prompted some questions:
Question 1- Where is it legal to make a left-turn-on-red?
Question 2- Where is it illegal to make a left-turn-on-red?
Question 3- Is it ever legal to make a left-turn-on-red from a two-way street?
Answer 1– 44 states and Puerto Rico allow left turns on red only if both the origin and destination streets are one way
Answer 2– Six states and Washington D.C. ban left turns on red: South Dakota* Connecticut Maine Missouri New Hampshire North Carolina
*South Dakota does permit local municipalities to allow left turns on red.
NOTE: New York City prohibits both right and left turns on red, unless a sign indicates otherwise.
Answer 3– Yes! Four states do allow left turns on red onto a one-way street even from a two-way street. Those states are: Idaho Michigan Oregon Washington state