According to the Federal Railroad Administration, there were more than 2,100 train-and-car collisions in 2022, which resulted in 274 deaths and 777 injuries. Unfortunately, that number is increasing, as there were 40 fewer fatalities the year prior. It might indicate a trend of drivers not behaving safely at railroad crossings.
“We really don’t know why drivers sometimes make unsafe choices at railroad crossings,” said Wende Corcoran, Interim President of Operation Lifesaver, an organization that educates drivers on railroad crossings and safety. “We know today’s drivers have a lot more distractions than they ever have before when they are behind the wheel.”
While you should never be distracted while driving, it's especially when you're at a train crossing. Follow these rules the next time you come across a railroad crossing to avoid becoming another statistic.
How to Handle a Railroad Crossing
Every driver both new and experienced should know what to do whenever they come up to a crossing. Warning lights and signs mark these crossings, notifying you of what's ahead. There are also a set of arms on both sides that prevent drivers from crossing when a train is approaching. When the train comes within a certain distance, the arms lower, lights flash, and bells sound. The arms then lift back up after the train is completely through the intersection.
When you approach the crossing, start by slowing down and looking both ways. If you don't see a train coming and there are no warning lights or sounds, quickly cross the tracks and keep on driving. If the arms are already down, come to a complete stop and wait patiently for the train to go through and the arms to lift back up.
3 Safety Rules to Follow for Railroad Crossings
1. Never Try to Beat a Train
Never try to make it across a railroad crossing if you see a train coming. The main reason is that it can take a train moving 55 mph over a mile to come to a complete stop if they pull the emergency brake. So there's no chance they can stop if you hit some bad luck and break down on the tracks.
2. Never Go Through a Lowered Gate
If you come across a lowered gate at a railroad crossing and there isn't a train coming, that doesn't mean you can cross underneath it. The train is likely still coming, and trying to cross under or around the gates only increases your odds of getting stuck on the tracks.
If you've been sitting at a crossing for a while with no train in sight, there's a chance the gate could be malfunctioning. The best thing to do in this situation is to call the railroad for help. Look for a blue and white Emergency Notification System sign with a phone number to call along with the crossing inventory number. Inform them of the issue, and they'll work on getting it fixed.
If you are calling about being stuck on the tracks, always make sure you and any passengers get a safe distance away from the car before calling. If you can't find a sign, call 9-1-1.
3. Always Use Caution
While passenger trains run on a pretty tight schedule you can plan your route around, freight trains are a different story. They can run at all times of day or night. So anytime you see tracks, just know that a train can be just outside of your line of sight. Keep it safe by stopping and looking both ways any time you approach a crossing, whether or not there there's a signal. Quickly proceed across and be on your way without incident.
Stay Safe at Every Railroad Crossing
Now you know a little more about how to keep yourself safe anytime you come upon a railroad crossing. Another way to learn some more rules of the road is by taking a driver's ed course at DriversEd.com. Take our bite-sized lessons entirely online at your own convenience.