Car accidents involving trains represent a huge mismatch in strength. While a car weighs only about 3000 pounds, a train usually weighs many hundreds of tons. Clearly, in a collision between the two, car passengers and drivers usually fare poorly. The sheer size and force of a train usually means that when a train accident occurs involving a car and train, fatalities and serious injuries are the most likely result.
Although car accidents are more common than car-truck accidents, drivers of passenger vehicles are 20 times more likely to die as a result of a train accident than a collision with another vehicle. The sheer size and force of trains simply makes them more deadly. Some trains weigh over 3, 000 tons while even an average smaller train will weigh 200 tons. The size of the train also makes collision avoidance difficult. A train going at a speed of 55 miles per hour will typically take a minimum of one mile to stop. When a car appears on the tracks, a train often cannot stop in time.
The US Department of Transportation reports that there are 5,800 train collisions involving cars each year. These accidents result in 2,300 serious injuries and about 600 fatalities each year. Most of the fatal accidents – more than half – take place at railway crossings that have no safety devices or that have too few such devices. This means that in more than 50% of cases, the railway company is at least partially liable for the accident by not taking correct safety measures. It also means, tragically, that more than 50% of these fatal accidents are quite preventable.
In about 75% of daylight train-car accidents, the accidents occur when the train strikes the car. In 50% of nighttime fatal incidents, the car collides with the train. In many accidents, train speed was a factor in collisions. Trains are supposed to slow down when making turns or when crossing intersections, but some train conductors speed through, increasing the odds of an accident.
There are several things drivers can do to help prevent train accidents involving cars. If you are a driver or pedestrian, report unsafe railway crossings. By federal law, railways are required to use flaggers and other safety devices to alert motorists and pedestrians of oncoming trains. If you notice an intersection without these features, write to your city hall or newspaper asking for changes. You could save a life. Also report unsafe track maintenance. Keep in mind that holes or damage around the tracks can cause a pedestrian, bicyclist, or even car to become stuck when trying to cross the tracks.
Of course, pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers need to use extra caution when driving through train tracks. Even when no lights are on, it makes sense to stop and look. If you see a train or train lights, wait to see whether the train is approaching. The lights or safety markers may not be working. Ensure that all is safe before attempting to cross the tracks.