Railroad crossing law

Oct. 4,1999, marked the first day commercial drivers will be penalized for violating federal, state or local laws connected with railroad-highway grade crossings. Defying these rules could lead to disqualification from operating a commercial motor vehicle.

Penalties will also be charged against employing motor carriers who have knowingly allowed, permitted, authorized or required a driver to operate a CMV in violation of laws or regulations pertaining to railroad-highway grade crossings. Penalties for motor carriers found to be in violation can be up to $10,000.

OOIDA opposed these changes because the penalties are too severe and the rules themselves aren't practical. "No carrier would knowingly allow drivers to violate grade crossing laws, regardless of the amount of the fine," says Todd Spencer, executive VP of OOIDA. "It appears likely the only trucker that could get stuck with a $10,000 fine would be an owner-operator running on his own authority."

All states already have laws designed to penalize drivers for trying to "beat the train." Now we have grade-crossing rules that are "truckdrivers only" and are written so broadly that a driver stopped at a crossing where a stopped switch engine has activated the alarms could be disqualified from driving for crossing the tracks. Spencer says, "That's absurd."

He says the truth is that most accidents at rail crossings don't involve commercial vehicles and the majority of rail crossings don't even have flashing lights to warn drivers of an approaching train. "Historically, the railroads have not been good citizens on grade crossing safety. This is another example."

What can get you convicted? A commercial vehicle operator who knowingly: fails to slow down, fails to stop, fails to check for clear track, fails to obey traffic control devices; crosses a railroad-highway grade without checking for sufficient undercarriage clearance, and crosses without having enough clearance on the other side of the track without stopping can be convicted and lose his or her license for a period of time.

The minimum CDL disqualification period is not less that 60 days if it is a first violation; not less that 120 days for a second violation during any three year period; and not less than one year for a third conviction during a three-year period. 

-Donna Carlson