The Incident – Why Buses Open Their Door at Railroads
By Chad Upton | Editor
Although it was required by law for school bus drivers to stop at railway crossings in 1938, drivers were not required to open their door.
On December 1st of that year a gruesome accident changed that. It was a blizzard in Salt Lake City, Utah and a school bus driver stopped his bus at a railway crossing. Because of the snow, the visibility was terrible and the driver was not able to see an approaching freight train.
24 of the 40 passengers died, including the driver. According to surviving passengers, the train was broadsided without notice. Although the driver was familiar with the train schedule, the weather had delayed the train which should have passed two hours earlier. To make matters worse, the train was travelling faster than normal to make up for lost time.
Unfortunately, the same crossing saw accidents in 1995, 1997 and 2002. Thankfully, it is now closed.
The snow ultimately led to the horrific crash in 1938, but investigators wanted to know if any precautions could have prevented it. Stopping the bus and looking for trains works great when the visibility is good, but it’s useless in snow and fog. Opening the bus door (and driver’s window), allows the driver to hear trains.
Today, opening the door and/or driver side window is law in many parts of the United States and Canada. The same law is also extended to trucks that carry hazardous materials.
Some crossings do not require these vehicles to stop and they are marked with an “Exempt” sign. This is typical if the crossing is no longer active.
Railroad crossing signals do fail and there are thousands of collisions each year between trains and cars, many of which end in fatalities. Although the signals are fairly reliable, it doesn’t hurt to pay close attention when you approach railway crossings.
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