The city of Orangeburg, S.C. feels there are too many car accidents on train tracks. Local television station WISTV reported that the number of accidents has doubled since trains were allowed an increase in speed through the heavily trafficked area in 2001, from 15 miles per hour on the track to 49 miles per hour. In total, the South Carolina highway patrol indicates that 122 vehicle collisions at train crossings occurred in the 2012-2014 period.
The rate of accidents is not unique to South Carolina or the Orangeburg area. Operation Lifesaver, a citizen organization that promotes safety around train tracks, estimates that a vehicle or person is hit by a train every 3 hours on average nationwide.
Opinions differ about the cause of the crashes. In Orangeburg, the mayor notes that the train crosses near both South Carolina State University and Claflin University, and has called for the speed of trains to be lowered—a move seconded by many nearby residents.
However, local Operation Lifesaver activists also believe that the actions of drivers could help to prevent accidents. First, trains simply do not have an option to stop if they see a car just a short distance ahead of them. Janice Cowen with Operation Lifesaver cautions motorists “trains have the right of way when you come to a railroad crossing. They can’t swerve, they don’t have a steering wheel, and they can’t stop quickly.” Second, vehicle drivers sometimes try to beat an oncoming train by going through a crossing when a train is clearly approaching. Patience is key, as are following the law and the signals.
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