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Railroad Crossing Safety Tips for Drivers

Header Image of a railroad crossing with train
Between 2017 and 2021, there were 7,919 collisions between motor vehicles and freight or commuter trains resulting in 620 fatalities and 2,965 injuries, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.  One problem is that only 56 percent of the roughly 125,500 public rail grade crossings in the United States have “active” warning devices — such as automated gates, bells or flashing lights. However, in 2021 alone, when there were 1,676 collisions, 21 percent of these accidents may have been prevented, as the accidents occurred after drivers went around or through a lowered gate. This statistic alone demonstrates the importance of driver awareness and smart decision-making at every crossing type. 

It’s important to recognize that a light-rail train traveling 55 miles per hour needs the length of two football fields to make an emergency stop, while an average-length freight train may need the length of 18 football fields. This means a train cannot stop in time to avoid most accidents, so safety is in the hands of drivers. 

Tips drivers should take when approaching any railroad crossing:

  • Expect a train on any track at any time. Train schedules are unpredictable.
  • Expect a train coming from either direction. At crossings with multiple tracks, look both directions again once a train has passed.
  • Slow or come to a complete stop at every crossing, regardless of signal types. The law requires motorists to yield or come to a complete stop at least 15 feet from a rail grade track when a train is visible, a train whistle is audible, red lights are flashing, a crossing gate is lowered, a stop sign is posted, or a safety official is signaling.
  • Never get trapped on a crossing. Don’t follow too closely behind the car in front of you; make sure you have the space needed to get completely across the track before moving forward. When you start to cross, keep going.
  • If your vehicle does get stuck or stalls on the tracks, leave possessions behind and exit the vehicle quickly. If a train is visible, run at a 45 degree angle away from the tracks but in the direction from which the train is coming. This helps you avoid being hit by debris catapulted from the collision with the vehicle. Once you’ve reached a safe distance, call 911.
  • Never wait too closely to the tracks. Train cars can extend three feet over each side of the track.
  • Never drive around a crossing gate.
  • Don’t misjudge the speed of a train. Its sheer size makes it look like it’s moving more slowly than it is.
  • Use extra precaution at crossings with partially obstructed views. Stop and move forward slowly until you have a clear view of the tracks.
You may encounter railroad crossings daily — don’t let the familiarity of any route decrease your attention to safety. Never minimize the risk at any crossing and always use the appropriate precautions to prevent a life-altering collision. And remember, if you have anything in tow, you must account for its length and time needed to cross.

Get help after a collision from Westfield

If the worst happens and your vehicle is struck by a train, know that your Westfield auto insurance is there to help. With collision insurance, you will get important financial support to help you replace what was lost. If you practice great safety behind the wheel, you might especially like the savings possible with MissionSafe, an app-based program that rewards drivers for good driving.