Here’s what to do if your car gets stuck at a railroad crossing

We’ve seen horrific videos of what happens when people drive around railroad crossing gates: vehicles smashed, becoming mangled piles of their former selves. Preventing this is common sense. When the gates are down, you wait. But what do you do if your car gets stuck?

Chip Pew of Operation Lifesaver says: don’t try to push the car off the tracks. Get everyone out, and if you see or hear a train coming, run.

“Once the lights and bells start flashing at a crossing, that train could be at that crossing in as little as 20 seconds,” Pew said.

And it may seem counterintuitive, but Pew says you should actually run toward the train at a 45-degree angle, instead of “down track,” or directly away from the train.

“The train could strike the vehicle and you may end up getting hit by your own vehicle- not the train,” Pew said.

Also, if you’re stuck and there’s no train coming, 911 shouldn’t be your first call, according to Operation Lifesaver. Instead, look for a blue sign and call the number on there, because that will connect you with the railroad directly. Pew said it’s faster than being routed through a 911 call center.

“This is the quickest, easiest way to get a hold of the railroad,” he said.

Each railroad crossing has a unique address or crossing number, and by giving that to the railroad, they can immediately tell any nearby trains to stop.

The blue signs started popping up in 2012 after a Federal Railroad Administration mandate. But many still don’t know about them. And if the railroad isn’t reached in time, a crash can occur, leaving not only you in jeopardy, but also other nearby pedestrians and any commuters on board the train.

It should be noted that collisions at crossings are down significantly from 20 years ago thanks to improved awareness and safety measures like gates and lights. Now only about 24% of all railroad fatalities occur at crossings. The rest are people trespassing or suicides.