The Syracuse Post Standard reports on a Cayuga County car accident last Thursday, in Sennett, New York. On a snow-covered Hidden Valley Road (near Route 5, a/k/a Grant Ave), a motorist drove his SUV into the side of a Finger Lakes Railroad train, which was traveling at only about 9 miles per hour. Fortunately, the motorist sustained only minor injuries.
Someone once said that the difference between a wise man and a fool is that the former learns from others’ mistakes and the latter learns only from his own. So be wise, and learn from this accident before it happens to you. Learn what? Two things:
First, wake up! In case you haven’t noticed, it’s winter (and a very snowy one) in Central New York. The roads are slippery, icy and snow-covered. Drive prudently. For tips on how to minimize your risks of car accidents in winter, read my prior blog on this subject.
Second, railroad crossing are hazardous! This train/auto collision was unusual in that the car hit the train; usually it is the other way around. When a train meets the side of a car, it is almost never a happy encounter. You are 30 times more likely to die in a collision with a train than with another car, and for obvious reasons (well, just in case they are not so obvious, it is because trains weigh a lot more and can’t slow down quickly). It happens more often than you think; a train collides with a motor vehicle in America every 90 minutes. According to the Federal Railroad Administration, approximately 2,000 Americans die or are and injured at rail crossings every year.
In appropriate cases, Michaels & Smolak represents motor vehicle drivers and their passengers in their claims against railroad companies for injuries sustained in train/motor vehicle collisions. Sometimes the crossing was not set up right, or the signals failed, or the train conductor did not sound his whistle or bell properly. To be honest, though, these collisions are usually the car driver’s fault.
Here are some tips on safety at railroad crossings:
• Be aware that trains usually move faster than they appear to be moving. Don’t be fooled!
• Don’t pass a vehicle within 100 feet of a railroad crossing.
• Before crossing the tracks, roll down your windows, turn off the radio, air and other noise sources, and listen for whistles, bells or other sounds indicative of a train coming.
• Keep in mind that New York State Law (Vehicle & Traffic Law 1171) requires certain vehicles to stop at railroad crossing (buses, trucks carrying hazardous materials, etc.).
• Always yield to flashing lights, closing gates, whistles, etc.
• When you stop before the tracks, keep a distance of 15 to 50 feet from them. (The tracks are 4-feet, 8 ½ inches wide, and the train’s width extends 3 feet past the rails on either side).
• Cross the tracks only at designated railroad crossing.
• Don’t get stuck in a railroad crossing. Cross only if you are sure you can clear the tracks. Once you have started to cross the tracks, keep going — this is no time to change your mind!
• If your vehicle stalls on the tracks and a train is coming, get out, and get your passengers out. Don’t waste time trying to restart your car.
Learn from others’ tragedies, not your own. Be careful at railroad crossings.