Vehicle-Train Crashes Caused By Distracted Driving

                                              vehicle-train crossing accident

Distracted driving remains a hot safety topic, as it is a known cause of many serious motor vehicle accidents.  Most of the focus is on distracted car and truck drivers on the road generally.  A recent news article in the Occupational Health & Safety magazine highlights the dangers of distracted driving near train tracks or railroad crossings. 

The article discusses two public service announcements filmed in Maryland by the nonprofit rail safety education organization Operation Lifesaver, Inc. The PSAs will show two scenarios in which distracted driving “leads to danger as drivers fail to notice that they are approaching highway-rail grade crossings.” Recent studies have shown that distracted driving, such as texting while driving, can take a driver’s eyes off the road long enough to travel the length of a football field.

Train accidents of all kinds can cause catastrophic injuries or even death. There are many factors that can contribute to a train accident, and there are also many players as well as federal and state transportation laws. 

Taking eyes off the road long enough to send a text message can also be long enough to miss railroad-crossing signals. The article points to federal statistical data showing that “inattentive drivers contribute to approximately 3 percent of all vehicle-train crashes at highway-rail grade crossings.”  Through August of this year, the month of most recent data, there have been 1,247 highway-rail incidents, causing 156 fatalities.

A highway-rail incident, as defined by the Federal Railroad Administration, is “any impact between a rail and a highway user at a crossing site, regardless of severity. Includes motor vehicles and other highway/roadway/sidewalk users at both public and private crossings.” This means that pedestrians, walking and talking or texting from a cell phone near railroad crossings, may be unaware of an oncoming train, leading to catastrophic injury or even death.

In Illinois, there were 63 highway-rail incidents between January and August of this year, 32 of which have resulted in injuries, and 14 that have been fatal.