How to Be Safe When Approaching a Railroad Crossing
Car and pedestrian accidents at railroad crossings are more common than you might realize. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that a person or vehicle is hit by a train in the United States every three hours. In 2020 alone, there were 1,377 motor vehicle collisions at public rail grade crossings that resulted in 494 people being injured and 94 fatalities.
Trains are such powerful vehicles that it’s very easy for accidents at railroad crossings to be fatal or result in very serious injuries. Between their size and weight and the speeds they travel at, they simply aren’t able to stop quickly if they see signs that a collision might occur. So what can drivers do to stay safe when approaching and crossing a railroad crossing?
Michigan Law & Railroad Crossings
In the state of Michigan, rules for what cars need to do when approaching railroad crossings are covered by MCL 257.667:
(1) When a person driving a vehicle approaches a railroad grade crossing under any of the following circumstances, the driver shall stop the vehicle not more than 50 feet but not less than 15 feet from the nearest rail of the railroad, and shall not proceed until the driver can do so safely:
- (a) A clearly visible electric or mechanical signal device gives warning of the immediate approach of a railroad train.
- (b) A crossing gate is lowered or a flagman gives or continues to give a signal of the approach or passage of a railroad train.
- (c) A railroad train approaching within approximately 1,500 feet of the highway crossing gives a signal audible from that distance, and the train by reason of its speed or nearness to the crossing is an immediate hazard.
- (d) An approaching railroad train is plainly visible and is in hazardous proximity to the crossing.
(2) A person shall not drive a vehicle through, around, or under a crossing gate or barrier at a railroad crossing while the gate or barrier is closed or is being opened or closed or against the direction of a police officer
Failure to follow these rules is considered a civil infraction. Waiting until you can proceed safely means waiting until lights have stopped flashing, warning bells stop ringing, crossing gates have risen, and you are sure that all tracks are clear.
When you see a sign indicating that a railroad crossing is ahead, slow down and prepare to stop. If a railroad crossing has things like a stop or yield sign instead of a motorized crossing gate and flashing lights, slow down or stop and make sure it is safe before proceeding, even if you initially don’t see a train coming.
With the requirement about how far away you must stop from railroad tracks, this is to protect drivers from being hit by the train even if they stop. Keep in mind that trains overhang the width of train tracks by about three feet on both sides and there’s a chance that they could be transporting cargo that overhangs even further.
It’s also important to note that certain types of vehicles are required to stop at all railroad crossings, regardless if there isn’t a stop sign or other railroad crossing signal. These vehicles include buses, other types of vehicles that carry passengers for hire, gasoline trucks, and other vehicles carrying hazardous materials, unless otherwise clearly marked.
Railroad Crossing Safety Tips
In addition to following Michigan’s rules for approaching railroad tracks, there are some other good general safety tips to keep in mind:
- Always approach a railroad crossing like a train could be there. Be sure to check in both directions before proceeding across.
- Never stop your car while on a railroad track and avoid changing gears while your car is over a railroad track.
- Never try to race a train. Waiting for a train to pass may be inconvenient, but trying to beat a train across the tracks can be deadly.
- When roads are snowy, make sure you cross railroad tracks with enough speed to help you get across safely without getting stuck.
- If you’re in a situation where traffic has gotten backed up around a railroad crossing, make sure there is enough room for you to have a safe distance between your car and the other side of the tracks before proceeding to cross.
- For pedestrians, avoid walking or jogging routes that run close to railroad tracks, even if you think the tracks are inactive.
What to Do if You Get Stuck on Railroad Tracks
If you try crossing a railroad track and your car gets stuck on the tracks, the first thing you need to do is get yourself and your passengers out of the car and as far away from the tracks as possible.
If you do not see a train coming and crossing gates/lights/alarms are not activated, keep your distance from the tracks and call the railroad’s emergency contact number, which will be posted on the blue emergency notification sign near the crossing so that you can report the problem. You’ll be asked to provide the crossing identification number from the emergency notification sign so that the railroad can take actions to prevent an accident. After you’ve notified the railroad, call 911.
If your car is stuck on the tracks and there are signs of a train nearby, call 911 as soon as you and all of your passengers are safely out of the car.
Contact a Michigan Car Accident Lawyer
If you’ve been injured in a car accident, it’s extremely important to make sure that you have a car accident lawyer on your side who can fight for you to get the justice you deserve. At Goodwin & Scieszka, you’ll be able to get help from a lawyer highly experienced in handling Michigan auto accident cases, including car accidents, truck accidents, and motorcycle accidents. Contact us to find out how we can help you.