Recently, highway safety officials from federal agencies have started a multi-million dollar awareness campaign to educate people on the dangers associated with train crossings. They’re doing this partly in reaction to the latest study on railroad crossing accidents, which showed a greater need for efforts to reduce the number of resulting injuries and deaths.
“Stop. Trains Can’t.” is a campaign running nationwide as part of a joint effort by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). With a budget of over $6 million, funding is being spent to raise awareness on the dangers of railroad crossings by spreading the message via advertisements on digital, radio, and social media channels. The advertisements will urge drivers to be alert to railroad crossing warning devices, like descending gates or flashing lights, that show when a train is nearing.
The two agencies will be targeting their ads at several areas in Alabama, Arizona, California, Georgia, Indiana, Tennessee, and Texas, where there are an elevated number of higher-risk railroad crossings and fatal collisions. In 2019, accidents at railway crossings led to over 900 deaths. This was an increase on the previous year’s numbers by over 10%. Officials have asserted that these recent numbers are the highest levels recorded in over a decade.
Why Trains Are So Dangerous
Part of the reason for such elevated death rates and the reason that the campaign is so important is that, according to figures from the NHTSA, a crash involving a train is nearly 20 times more likely to be fatal than an accident with another vehicle. There are a variety of causes for the elevated danger posed by railways, but the primary cause of danger is the massive force caused by the impact of a train, which can weigh anywhere from 4,000 to 20,000 tons.
Not only does the massive size of a train mean the damage from an impact involving one will be massive, but it also means that the train itself is less able to avoid the collision. A train can require more than one mile of the railway to stop, meaning that a train will not be able to stop itself from hitting a vehicle in its way, even if the emergency brakes are used. When you combine this with the fact that trains aren’t maneuverable and can’t turn to avoid a crash, it is entirely up to the operator of the motor vehicle to ensure that they heed warning signs and stay out of the train’s path.
Steps to Reduce Car Collisions
A talking point for the campaign is that the majority of railway crossing fatalities could be avoided if drivers took more precautions around railways. They’re promoting a series of proactive steps that the public should make when nearing railroad crossings to reduce the risk of collision and injury. They say that drivers should:
- Stop, look both ways, and listen for trains because trains have the right of way and are unable to stop
- Ensure that they have adequate room to cross the tracks before attempting to cross the railway
- Stop 5 yards away from the any crossing gates so there’s no chance of crossing entering the track
- Never ignore crossing alarms or attempt to cross when the gate is lowering
- Allow the gate to fully raise and signals to stop entirely before crossing
- Consider the possibility that there is more than one train passing
The agencies involved in this outreach campaign believe that if drivers follow these simple steps, fatalities around the country could be greatly reduced.