WASHINGTON, D.C. — Federal statistics show that inattentive drivers contribute to approximately 3 percent of all vehicle-train crashes at highway-rail grade crossings, according to Operation Lifesaver Inc (OLI).
The nonprofit railroad safety education organization also reported that 20 percent of grade crossing collisions involve motor vehicles striking trains at a crossing.
These statistics are relevant as U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood convenes a Distracted Driving Summit here Wednesday and Thursday.
“Distracted driving can lead to serious consequences at highway-rail grade crossings,” OLI President Helen M. Sramek said. “In addition to the tragic deaths and injuries caused by car-train collisions, these events also are costly for communities. Emergency responders and roadways can be tied up for hours, keeping responders from other community emergencies and drivers from their jobs and homes.”
OLI reported that a total of 2,397 highway-rail grade crossing collisions occurred last year, resulting in 286 deaths and more than 900 injuries.
Moreover, Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) statistics show that in 78 of these collisions, the cause was “highway user inattentiveness,” resulting in 14 deaths and 117 injuries. Through the first six months of 2009, there were 34 highway-rail grade crossing incidents caused by highway user inattentiveness, resulting in six deaths and 52 injuries.
Other FRA statistics show that in 488 of last year’s grade crossing collisions, the vehicle ran into a train already present at the crossing. Of those crashes, more than 60 percent were at crossings that were equipped with gates or flashing lights, while just over 33 percent occurred at crossings with stop signs or cross buck warning signs.
“Although these collisions may have other causes, text-messaging or other distractions may be contributing factors,” Sramek said. “In one incident reported by a major railroad, the motorist stopped on the track to answer the phone; another railroad notes that in more than 41 percent of the incidents where a vehicle hit a train, the vehicle did not stop.”