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The Challenges of Ensuring Railroad Crossing Safety

Traffic officials face multiple challenges when it comes to ensuring railroad crossing safety. 

Some of the factors that contribute to the ongoing accident rate include the following:


  • Driver impairment due to the use of alcohol and/or illicit drugs.  These substances not only affect coordination, but they also depress the areas of the brain responsible for judgment.  This leads to the urge to “beat the train,” a test that intoxicated motorists all too often fail.
  • Driver distractions and impatience.  Today’s motorists are distracted not only by passengers and other vehicles but also by cell phones and other digital devices, causing them to pay less attention than they should.  Also, with many drivers busier than ever before, the temptation to take chances in the face of an oncoming train can seem overwhelming.  This is especially true given the fact that approaching trains often appear to be moving slower than they actually are. 
  • Inattention to the basics of railroad crossing safety.  Unlike the above factors, this cause can be remedied to a large degree by public awareness campaigns.  Officials should teach drivers to do the following when approaching crossings:
    • Stop completely while at least three feet from the tracks
    • Never assume that trains don’t run during certain times of the day
    • Look in both directions twice before crossing tracks
    • Listen carefully for the train when stopped
    • Turn off the vehicle radio, put an end cell phone conversations, and lower windows when parked at a crossing, in order to better hear an approaching train
    • Proceed slowly but steadily across the tracks after making sure a train isn’t coming near
    • Exit the vehicle immediately, should it stall on the tracks


It’s impossible for authorities to compensate completely for human error and inattentiveness.  However, continued efforts to teach safe driving principles can go a long way towards preventing railroad crossing accidents.