Despite all the obvious reasons for a driver to be exceedingly cautious at railroad crossings, collisions between trains and cars are still far too common occurrences. And in the majority of cases these collisions are reported to have been caused by the driver of a motor vehicle making an attempt to cross the tracks before the train gets to the crossing so that the driver won’t have to wait for it to pass. A train typically weighs in the neighborhood of 3,200 tons, while the average motor vehicle tends to weigh around two tons, with many passenger cars being even less than that. Trains also have very little ability to avoid these collisions: they can’t go anywhere that the rail line doesn’t, and the average loaded train will take over a mile to stop. Coupled with the fact that most railroad crossings in populated areas are marked with active warning systems, it becomes easy to believe that a collision between a train and a motor vehicle may have been the fault of the driver of the car.
Negligent Behavior By Railroads
Recent events have shown that not all of these collisions have occurred as people first believed, and numerous cases have arisen of railroad companies tampering with evidence shortly after an accident, or once it has become apparent that there would be litigation resulting from one. Investigations into collisions at railroad crossings have begun to show patterns of negligence in the maintenance of safety equipment at railroad crossings, as well as higher amounts of operator error on the part of railroad staff than had been previously documented. At the same time it has come to light that on several occasions during various court cases these companies have either concealed or destroyed documentation that in all likelihood would have proved damning in court should they have been entered as evidence. Because of this courts are beginning to have to take a closer look at the widely held belief that in collisions between motor vehicles and trains the driver must have been at fault.
Liability Issues With Railroads
There is very little an engineer operating a train can do if there is a vehicle on the tracks, so a railroad’s main line of defense against accidents are preemptive safety measures. Accordingly there is a great deal of vigilance that must be required in order to make sure that safety measures at railroad crossings are kept at the highest level of functionality. As it stands now, there is a perception that if an accident occurred it must have been caused by the driver of the car, but if it becomes apparent that there is a pattern of negligent maintenance of the main safety feature the industry relies on it would become much more difficult for railroad companies to defend these cases in court, resulting in potentially serious financial repercussions.
Current statistics from federal studies have listed “risky driver behavior or poor judgment” as the cause of 87 percent of all collisions at railroad crossings, however these numbers become suspect when taking in to account that the information used to develop these figures were largely derived from the railroad industry’s own internal accident reports.
Consult An Attorney
There is beginning to be a change in the public’s perception about where the responsibility for collisions at railroad crossings lies: recent litigation and investigations stemming from it has been going a long way towards proving that the driver isn’t always the party at fault when there is a collision between a car and a train. If you have lost a loved one because of an accident at a railroad crossing, don’t assume that they were to blame or that you can’t get justice for their loss: contact a local Tampa automobile accident attorney to discuss your situation.