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Railroad accidents involving cars are more common than you might imagine

While most people might not even realize it, chances are good that their normal routes to and from work, school, the store and other common destinations will take them through a railroad crossing.

Indeed, statistics show there are upwards of 200,000 miles of railroad tracks and 211,600 at-grade highway-rail crossings in the U.S. Breaking these numbers down further, there are over 7,300 miles of track and 7,674 public crossings here in Illinois.  

Given these figures and the sheer number of motorists on the roads and highways, one might conclude that there is a slightly elevated risk of railroad accidents involving vehicles.

As it turns out, it's far more than a slightly elevated risk.

How common are railroad accidents involving vehicles?

Figures from the public education initiative Illinois Operation Lifesaver show just how common railroad accidents involving vehicles actually are:

  • 2016 saw 2,025 highway-rail grade crossing collisions with 67 percent of these collisions occurring in just 15 states
  • 265 people lost their lives in highway-rail grade crossing collisions in the U.S. in 2015 
  • 22 people lost their lives in highway-rail grade crossing collisions in Illinois in 2016, the third highest in the nation
  • 3 hours is the average amount of time that passes between incidents involving vehicles or pedestrians being struck by trains

What else do I need to know about railroad accidents involving vehicles?

As if the above statistics weren't alarming enough, consider the following:

  • Half of railroad accidents involving vehicles take place at crossings with active warning systems (crossing arms, lights, bells, etc.)
  • Vehicle occupants are 40 times more likely to lose their lives in a collision with a train than a collision with another vehicle
  • A train traveling at 55 miles-per-hour must travel the equivalent of 18 football fields to come to a complete stop
  • Most railroad accidents involving vehicles take place when the train is traveling at less than 30 miles-per-hour  

Don't most railroad accidents involving vehicles occur because drivers are reckless, meaning they drive around gates, ignore bells, etc.?

While it's true that many accidents can be attributed to reckless actions by motorists, it's also true that many accidents occur because of things like malfunctioning warning systems, or negligence on the part of the conductor or railroad company.  

What can motorists do to protect themselves?

Some simple steps motorists can take to protect themselves include:

  • Observing and obeying all signs and warning systems
  • Crossing tracks only at designated crossings
  • Assuming that tracks are in use, even if they've never actually seen a train
  • Understanding that modern trains are much quieter

If you've been seriously injured or lost a loved one in any sort of auto accident involving a train, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional to learn more about your rights and your options.

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