In previous posts, we’ve focused mainly on making left turns at traditional intersections. Things change, however, when a driver intends to make a left turn immediately after crossing railroad tracks. Many railroad crossings are flanked by intersections, whether it be a stoplight intersection or a 3 way stop, necessitating different rules for the cars crossing the tracks. In this post, we will delve into the nuances of making left turns after crossing railroad tracks, with a strong emphasis on safety.
- The Right of Way: What Changes?
It is important to note that traffic rules will vary by jurisdiction. But, in general, the right of way changes in the event that there is an intersection connected to a railroad crossing. At a typical intersection, you can expect to yield to oncoming traffic before completing your left turn. When crossing railroad tracks, the car crossing the tracks typically has the right of way over oncoming traffic. This is because of the possibility that cars would be compelled to stop on the tracks while waiting for oncoming traffic.
- Illinois-Specific Considerations
In our posts, we focus mainly on Illinois and Chicagoland-specific traffic laws. It is important that drivers be familiar with their own local regulations, and pay attention to any signage that would overrule the typical traffic rule assumptions. In Illinois, it is typical that the vehicle crossing the tracks will maintain the right of way.
Safety Precautions to Keep in Mind
- Keep a Safe Distance: It is crucial that drivers who intend to turn left after a railroad crossing are aware of the distance between them and the car in front of them. The driver in front may not be as familiar with traffic regulations or may stop immediately after the railroad crossing for some other reason. Staying too close to the car in front could lead the rear car to stop on the tracks which could be catastrophic.
- Pay Close Attention to Traffic Signals: At is always important to maintain awareness of any signage or other traffic signals. When approaching a railroad crossing, never try to cross the tracks if the crossing gates begin to go down. Some rural intersections do not have crossing guards, making it extremely important to look down the tracks in search of oncoming trains.
- Stay Alert: Even if you have the right of way prior to attempting your left turn, it is never safe to assume that other drivers will wait for you. Alertness and defensive driving techniques could be the difference between a safe turn and a collision.
Additional Tips for Safe Left Turns After Railroad Crossings
- Understand Railroad Crossing Types: Oftentimes left turns will be prohibited when a traffic light-intersection is adjacent to the railroad crossing. It is important never to assume that the turn is allowed, and to obey any signs and signals.
- Watch for Pedestrians and Cyclists: Although drivers may have the right of way when making a left turn after crossing the tracks, pedestrians may already be in the left crosswalk. This makes it all the more important to approach your turn with alertness and caution even if you are confident that you have the right of way. Approach your turn at a safe speed, and be prepared to stop safely if you see a pedestrian or other hazard in the crosswalk.
- Leave a Sufficient Stopping Distance: Although not specific to left turns, this tip is crucial and should not be overlooked. It is important to approach the railroad crossing at a safe speed so that you will be able to stop safely if necessary. For example, if you notice the safety guards descending, you should be able to stop safely. Also, buses and large trucks are often required by law to stop prior to crossing the tracks. If you are behind a bus when approaching the crossing, expect to come to a complete stop prior to crossing the tracks and completing your left turns.
- Emergency Procedures: When talking about safety tips, we can’t overlook the importance of having an emergency plan. This point is also not specific to left turns, and applies whenever you intend to cross a railroad crossing. If your vehicle stalls or stops on the tracks, never remain in your vehicle. You should exit immediately and walk at a 45-degree angle toward the direction which the train will come from. This will keep you out of the path of any debris in the event that your car is in fact hit by an oncoming train.
Why are the Nuances of Left Turns So Important?
Left turns happen to be one of the most complex maneuvers that drivers face on a regular basis. Accidents that occur in intersections are more likely to occur during a left turn maneuver. This is because many variables are at play, including considerations for oncoming traffic, changing signals, and pedestrians in the left crosswalk.
Left turns across railroad tracks are important to be familiar with because of the changes in right of way. They can also be particularly dangerous because of visibility issues. Oftentimes, railroad tracks are slightly elevated, requiring drivers to drive over a small hill when crossing the tracks. In the case of a driver making a left turn, it can be hard to see the traffic over the tracks because of the obstruction by the hill. If you intend to make a left turn after a railroad crossing with low visibility, you will want to cross the tracks at a safe enough speed to be able to stop safely immediately after crossing.
This visibility issue can also make it difficult for cars in the intersection on the other side of the tracks to see the driver crossing the tracks. This is why it is especially important not to assume that the drivers in the intersection will respect your right of way. Drivers in the intersection may proceed through the intersection without seeing you coming.
Remember Safety Best Practices
If you are uncomfortable completing a left turn after crossing railroad tracks, it may be best to proceed straight across the tracks and make your turn at a different point. In previous posts, we have talked about how making all right turns can actually be a viable alternative to making any left turns.
Remembering your safe driving tips, like defensive driving and avoiding distractions, can make your drive safer in any scenario. When in doubt, safety first!