Bad Driving Habits That Can Get You Killed (RR Crossing)

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This Driver Thought He “Could Make It”

 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:

  1. Drunk and distracted drivers are not aware of the danger at railroad crossings. ‘Nuff said!
  2. 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!”
  3. 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.

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       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

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”

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