Determining Liability After a Car Wreck in Georgia: Driver Conduct on and Around Railroad Tracks – OCGA 40-6-140
Posted by Wetherington Law Firm | Articles
Railroad Rules for Georgia Drivers
We’ve all seen that classic movie cliché, where the hero or villain races through a railroad crossing just before the train arrives, cutting off the vehicle pursuing them and buying themselves precious time to escape. It’s pretty obvious that this move is dangerous and illegal, but have you ever wondered exactly how illegal?
In real life, drivers don’t need to be anywhere near that dramatic to break the law at a railroad crossing. And remember, any time a driver breaks a traffic law and injures someone as a result, that driver is liable for the damages, under the principle of negligence per se.
Last week, we talked about Georgia’s traffic statute 40-6-123, and how negligence per se applies to the misuse of turn signals. This week, we’ll talk about statutes 40-6-140 and 40-6-142, which both have to do with railroad crossing safety.
What to Stop For
Statute 40-6-140 starts by acknowledging that not all vehicles that use train tracks can be called trains.
(a) As used in this Code section, the term “other on-track equipment” means any car, rolling stock, or other device that, alone or coupled to another device, is operated on stationary rails.
Regardless, all collisions at railroad crossings are to be avoided, so any time you’d stop for a train, it’s common sense to stop for other track-borne vehicles too.
Where to Stop
Some railroad crossings have limit lines indicating where to stop, but many don’t, so drivers often have to estimate. When stopping is necessary, statute 40-6-140 requires that drivers do so between 15 and 50 feet away from the tracks.
(b) Whenever any person driving a vehicle approaches a railroad grade crossing, such driver shall stop within 50 feet but not less than 15 feet from the nearest rail of such railroad and shall not proceed until he or she can do so safely
When gauging where to stop for a railroad crossing, drivers should also be careful to avoid blocking nearby intersections.
When to Stop
There are a few basic situations in which all vehicles must stop before crossing the railroad tracks.
(1) A clearly visible electric or mechanical signal device gives warning of the immediate approach of a train;
(2) A crossing gate is lowered or a human flagman gives or continues to give a signal of the approach of the passage of a train or other on-track equipment; or
(3) An approaching train or other on-track equipment is plainly visible and is in hazardous proximity to such crossing.
In simple terms, it’s both dangerous and illegal to cross the tracks if you can see a train coming, if the gate is closed, if the lights are flashing, or if an authorized person signals you to stop.
Just in case it wasn’t clear enough from that list, statute 40-6-140 also reminds us later on never to enter a railroad crossing while a train is approaching.
(e) No person shall drive a vehicle over a railroad grade crossing when a train or other on-track equipment is approaching.
A bit of repetition can be understood in this particular statute, because crossing railroad tracks really isn’t a maneuver you want to gamble with. That’s why it’s specifically illegal to cross while the gate is in the process of opening or closing.
(c) No person shall drive any vehicle through, around, or under any crossing gate or barrier at a railroad crossing while such gate or barrier is closed or is being opened or closed.
Or when there isn’t enough room on the other side to cross completely,
(f) No person shall drive a vehicle over a railroad grade crossing if there is insufficient space to drive completely through the crossing without stopping.
Or if there’s any doubt that your vehicle’s undercarriage will be able to clear the tracks without getting stuck.
(g) No person shall drive a vehicle over a railroad grade crossing if there is insufficient undercarriage clearance for the vehicle to negotiate the crossing.
Remember, no matter how long the wait is at a railroad crossing, skipping it is never worth your life, or the lives of a train’s passengers.
When to Cross
If there’s no train in sight, no lights or people warning that one is on its way, no sign of the crossing gates closing, and no danger of a vehicle getting stuck on the tracks, most drivers are allowed to proceed across railroad crossings without stopping.
(d) If no electric or mechanical signal device is giving warning of the immediate approach of a train or other on-track equipment, no crossing gate or barrier is closed, there is no stop sign at the crossing, and there is no human flagman giving warning, all drivers shall slow to a reasonable and prudent speed and verify that there is no approaching train or other on-track equipment prior to proceeding. For the purposes of this subsection, “a reasonable and prudent speed” means a speed slow enough to enable the driver to safely stop the vehicle prior to reaching the nearest rail of such crossing.
However, if a railroad crossing is located at an intersection with traffic lights, stop signs, or other traffic control devices, drivers must still obey these signals. The presence of a railroad crossing is always cause for extra caution, and all drivers should be ready to stop quickly if conditions change.
Some Vehicles Are Required to Stop at Railroad Crossings by Default
A related statute, 40-6-142, requires buses, commercial passenger vehicles, and trucks hauling hazardous materials to stop before proceeding across train tracks, even when conditions appear to be perfect.
(a) Except as provided in subsection (b) of this Code section, the driver of any motor vehicle carrying passengers for hire, any bus, whether or not operated for hire, or of any school bus, whether carrying any school children or empty, or of any vehicle carrying any hazardous material listed in Section 392.10 of Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations as those regulations currently exist or as they may in the future be amended or in regulations adopted by the commissioner of public safety, before crossing at grade any track or tracks of a railroad, shall stop such vehicle within 50 feet but not less than 15 feet from the nearest rail of such railroad and while so stopped shall listen and look in both directions along such track for any approaching train and for signals indicating the approach of a train and shall not proceed until he or she can do so safely. After stopping as required in this Code section and upon proceeding when it is safe to do so, the driver of any such vehicle shall cross only in such gear of the vehicle that there will be no necessity for changing gears while traversing such crossing, and the driver shall not shift gears while crossing the track or tracks.
These vehicles must also plan ahead to avoid having to shift gears while crossing the tracks.
Even for buses and hazardous materials trucks, there are a few situations in which stopping at railroad crossings isn’t necessary.
All vehicles are allowed to proceed without stopping if directed to do so by a green traffic light, an onsite police officer, or another authorized person.
(b) No stop need be made at any such crossing where:
(1) Traffic is directed to proceed by a police officer, a firefighter, or a railroad flagman;
(2) A traffic-control signal directs traffic to proceed;
There are also railroad crossings that are specifically marked as “exempt” or “abandoned.”
(3) The highway crosses an abandoned railroad track which is marked with a sign indicating its abandoned status, where such signs are erected by or under the direction of the local or state authority having jurisdiction over the highway; or
(4) The highway crosses an industrial siding or spur track marked “exempt,” where such signs are erected by or under the direction of the local or state authority having jurisdiction over the highway.
Because there’s no current train activity on these tracks, drivers don’t need to take the extra precautions that are necessary at active railroad crossings.
What Damages Can You Recover After an Accident at a Railroad Crossing?
Maybe the driver behind you entered a railroad crossing without waiting for enough space to clear, and then rear-ended your vehicle in their rush to get out of the way of an approaching train. Maybe your bus driver failed to stop at a crossing, setting you and your fellow passengers up for an accident. Maybe you were riding a train when it collided with a vehicle. In any case, if you were injured due to a driver disregarding the rules of railroad crossings, that driver is liable for the damages under negligence per se. The compensation you’re entitled to will be a combination of “special damages” and “general damages.”
Special Damages Pay Your Bills
Any accident-related expense you can document counts as part of your special damages. Common examples include medical bills, vehicle replacement, and lost wages. To collect compensation for your special damages, you’ll need receipts or similar evidence of your expenses, and you’ll need to prove that those expenses were directly or proximately caused by the negligent driver. The Wetherington Law Firm can help with that. To learn about the definitions of direct and proximate cause, click here.
General Damages Compensate for Your Pain
In addition to your expenses, a car accident can negatively affect your life in a variety of non-financial ways. These are your general damages. Depending on your lifestyle and the nature of your injuries, these general damages might include physical suffering, psychological symptoms, or the pain of missing out on activities and opportunities. Naturally, general damages are harder to calculate than financial losses, but the Wetherington Law Firm can help you assess and explain the true depth of what your accident has cost you, to make sure you’re compensated as fairly as possible.
What If Someone Has Died in a Railroad Crossing Accident?
If you’ve lost a loved one to an accident on or around train tracks, you have our deepest sympathies. We’ll be glad to discuss the details of your wrongful death suit, but you may want to familiarize yourself first with some of the ways these cases differ from personal injury suits. Click here to learn more about wrongful death.
Why Do I Need a Lawyer?
Even when the facts of a case seem obvious, legal proceedings can be deceptively complicated. Professional representation is especially important when you’re dealing with subjective concepts like general damages, or when you’re going up against a wealthy company, like a car insurance provider, that thrives on maintaining a powerful legal department. The Wetherington Law Firm has the experience and passion necessary to counter corporate tactics, make the facts clear, and ensure that your losses are taken seriously. When you work with us, you can rest assured that your case is being handled correctly, while you focus your energy on your physical and mental recovery.
How to Hire the Best Car Wreck Lawyers in Atlanta
The Wetherington Law Firm works solely on a contingency basis, which means the only payment we accept comes from the settlements we win for our clients. We prefer contingency payments over hourly rates, because they allow us to choose our clients based on the merit of their cases, not the depth of their pockets.
Most of our lawyers have worked for corporate interests in the past, but we’ve chosen this path instead, because we know that the people who most need and deserve legal representation are usually those who can’t afford to pay for it up front. We want every one of our clients to know that we believe in them, and that we’re committed to doing our jobs right.
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