Trains and Cars Don’t Mix: Florida Auto Safety Tips

December 31, 2009

For whatever reason, South Florida auto safety rates decline around train tracks: Florida has a very high rate of train-versus-car accidents. The Sun Sentinel newspaper reported a story in November, 2009 in which a collision between a Tri-Rail communter train and a car resulted in the deaths of two of the three women in the car. The third passenger in the car was seriously injured. This accident is the sixth South Florida accident in 2009 that involved a car and either a Tril-Rail train or an Amtrak train. Most of the accidents involved a car that was stuck on the tracks at a railroad crossing.

There is more bad news: the Federal Railroad Administration reports that Florida ranks 9th on the list of states for collisions between a train and an automobile. The Sunshine State had 74 collisions out of the 2,391 auto-train accidents in 2008 and these collisions resulted in 25 deaths.

While it is difficult to know exactly why people have trouble at railroad crossings, impatience surely is a factor. People just do not want to be stuck waiting for a train to cross in front of them, so they try to jump the crossing gates to get through before the train does. Distraction plays another role: if people are on their cell phones or are texting while driving, they often miss visual or auditory clues from the environment around them. Many fail to see the changing of a traffic light or the pedestrian stepping off a curb in front of them, and often can fail to see railroad gates lowering in front of them.

Operation Lifesaver, a non-profit public education program formed in 1972, offers videos, publications, and tips to help drivers end collisions, deaths and injuries at places where roadways cross train tracks, and on railroad rights-of-way. They give seven steps for Florida auto safety around train tracks:

1. Approach crossing with care. Slow down when you see an Advanced Warning Sign.

2. Prepare to stop. Turn off fans and radio, roll down windows. Look and listen for a train.

3. Stop at least 15 feet from nearest rail, but not more than 50 feet, if you see a train.

4. If it won’t fit, don’t commit. Trains extend beyond the width of the rails at least 3 feet on each side. If your vehicle has a trailer, remember the additional length.

5. Double check, back left and right. Before you move look in both directions.

6. Cross tracks with care. If your vehicle has a manual transmission, use a gear that will not require shifting until you reach the opposite side.

7. Keep going once you start, even if lights start to flash or gates come down.

We will offer an additional Florida auto safety tip: if traffic is backed up from a traffic light on the other side of the tracks, don’t stop your car on the tracks while waiting for the light to change. If a train comes before the traffic in front of you can move out of the way, you will be the one stuck in its path!

If you have been involved in a Florida auto accident, contact South Florida accident lawyer Joseph M. Maus, P.A.at 1-866-556-5529, visit his website at http://www.mauslawfirms.com, or email him today.

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