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It’s easy to miss train tracks. When you are driving, you have a thousand things to look at: your rearview mirrors, the car in your blind spot, the upcoming traffic light, and, admittedly, for most of us, the radio station. It’s understandable that, with your attention so divided, you might miss two thin strips of steel crossing the road.

Perhaps the danger of railroad tracks lies in their innocuousness. It is estimated that every 90 minutes a passenger vehicle collides with a train in the United States alone, and all too often newspapers feature stories about deceased drivers who either did not notice an oncoming train or thought they could beat it. Freight can travel up to 60 miles per hour. Here’s a good rule of thumb for railroad crossings: if you can see the train, then it is too late to cross. Period.

Often, though, the problem is not that a driver tries to race the train – it’s that he (or she) does not even realize it is approaching. To avoid this problem, the USA Federal Railroad Administration and highway authorities in each state mark crossing with a variety of warnings. The most frequently used crossings feature flashing lights, ringing bells, and gates. In most instances, train conductors must sound their horn as they approach; these crossings, as most of us have learned while driving home from work, are difficult to miss. Less heavily used crossings have only the flashings lights. For the least-traveled crossings, the only warning is a white sign in the shape of an ‘x’ with the words ‘railroad crossing’ written on it. Especially on dark, empty highways, these signals are easy to overlook. Check out this site for examples of these signs.

Train crashes are almost always deadly, but they are easy to avoid. First, listen for the bells and horns that signify an oncoming train. Second, do not try and race a train across the railroad tracks; no matter how long the train may be, the saved time doesn’t justify the risk. Third, and most importantly, be attentive. Keep an eye out for train tracks, and you should be fine.

One Comment

  1. Gravatar for Mike Bryant

    Between faulty gates, gates that bounce, and the railroads call for their "investigators" before the police, I always question the "they raced the train" story. Minnesota just had a very big verdict on a case where the jury didn't believe the claim of the race.

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