Over 95% of all railroad fatalities are caused by crossing collisions and pedestrian trespassers on railroad tracks, according to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).
Many of these collisions can be avoided by following the federal laws put in place by Congress.
According to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), commercial motor vehicles must stop within 50 feet of but not closer than 15 feet to the tracks and drivers must look each direction along the tracks for an approaching train. When it is safe to do so, the vehicle may cross the tracks in the gear that permits it to complete the crossing without a change of gears.
Federal exemptions from these regulations only include an abandoned railroad grade crossing with a sign indicating that it is abandoned and a railroad crossing controlled by a functioning highway traffic signal that is green. In other instances, a commercial vehicle must follow the regulations above, according to the FMCSA.
There are some exemptions by state or local authorities that should be noted on signs erected at those crossings.
Regardless of state and federal exemptions, all commercial motor vehicles must stop if they are carrying hazardous materials as defined by the Hazardous Materials Regulations of the DOT.
Operation Lifesaver, a nonprofit organization that focuses on railroad safety, trains professional drivers to ensure they are aware of federal regulations on railroad crossings and offers tips to help them stay safe while crossing the tracks.
Operation Lifesaver found violations of these regulations occur when:
- You drive a commercial vehicle that is required to stop, but you fail to stop before driving onto the crossing.
- You drive a commercial vehicle that is not required to stop, but you fail to slow down and check that no train is approaching.
- You drive a commercial vehicle that is not required to stop, but you fail to stop if the tracks are not cleared.
- You fail to leave sufficient space to drive completely through the crossing without stopping.
- You fail to obey a traffic control device or directions of an enforcement official.
- You fail to cross a track due to insufficient undercarriage clearance, with or without a low-clearance sign at the tracks.
Violations can result in these penalties:
- First conviction: The driver is disqualified from driving for at least 60 days.
- Second conviction within any three-year period: The driver is disqualified from driving for at least 120 days.
- Third conviction within any three-year period: The driver is disqualified from driving for at least a year.