Universal Truths (And Their Exceptions)

J. Bradley Klepper
Attorney at Law

There are a few things in life that are always true no matter the facts or circumstances -- things that nobody can argue or take issue with. For example, nobody can dispute the fact that “fat people are harder to kidnap” (I am fat so I rely on this one way more than I should) or that “taking a laxative and a sleeping pill at the same time is always a bad idea.” As a result I have come to view these items as being universally true. Until recently I have considered all of my universal truths to be cast in stone and otherwise irrefutable. However, this has recently changed.

One of my favorite “universal truths,” and one that I try to live by and teach my kids, is that you can never assume anything. Anyone who has ever seen the movie the Bad News Bears (the original one) knows, when you assume something you make an “ass out of you and me” (ass/u/me). While this may be true in many things, it is not always true when you are behind the wheel of your truck.

One of the goals of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is to reduce truck/tractor collisions by increasing the focus on highway-rail grade traffic safety. A “highway-rail grade crossing” occurs when a section of highway crosses a set of railroad tracks that are at the same level or grade. Crossings of this type are quite common and can occur on both public and private roads. Accordingly, the FMCSA has an educational campaign to remind drivers to take adequate precautions before crossing tracks and a list of things to do should your vehicle become stalled over a highway – rail grade crossing.

For the first part of its education campaign, the FMCSA has published a list of seven steps to take when approaching a “highway – rail grade crossing.” The seven steps the FMCSA recommends are:

1. Approach with care. Warn others that you are slowing down. One way to do this is to turn on your 4-way flashers. Also, consider using the pull-out lane if it is available;

2. Prepare to stop. Turn off your fans and radio and roll down your windows. You should also locate your cell phone for use in emergency and stop at least 15 feet, but not more than 50 feet, from nearest rail;

3. Look and listen both ways. Lean forward as necessary to see around your mirrors and A-pillars;

If it won't fit, don't commit. Remember that trains can extend beyond the width of the rails so make sure you have adequate room for your vehicle and cargo overhang;

5. Look and listen both ways again;

6. Cross the tracks with care. Always signal and pull back onto the road if you use a pull out lane. Also, use the highest gear possible that will let you cross the tracks without shifting; and

7. Keep moving once you start rolling after you start, even if the lights flash or the gates come down. .

As you can see, the seven steps listed above all make perfect sense and will help make the world safer; however, I would like to add an additional rule. A rule that violates one of my favorite universal truths: ALWAYS ASSUME A TRAIN IS COMING DOWN THE TRACKS.

By making this assumption you should exhibit a greater level of care when approaching the tracks thereby reducing the risk of truck/train collisions and saving lives. Possibly yours. Furthermore, this is one of the few times where your assumption will make an ass out of neither you nor me.
In addition, to the steps to take when approaching a highway – rail grade crossing, the FMCSA has also published a list of four things to do should your truck stall over a set of tracks. The four things to do are:

GET OUT OF YOUR VEHICLE IMMEDIATELY. Evacuate. Exit. Flee. Whatever word you want to use is fine, just get out of your truck as trains travelling at 60 mph can take up to a mile to come to a stop;

Move away from your truck and the rail. Walk toward the train and away from the tracks at a 45 degree angle. If your vehicle is hit, debris will spread out from your truck in the direction the train is travelling;

Locate the emergency phone number and DOT crossing identification number. This information will be posted near the crossing; and

Call the railroad emergency number, the local police or 911 to tell them a vehicle is on the tracks.

Provide the location, crossing number and the name of the road or highway that crosses the tracks.
Again, I would like to supplement the FMCSA’s list by adding an additional rule. If your vehicle stops on the tracks ALWAYS ASSUME A TRAIN IS COMING. Since trains can take over a mile to stop one may very well be around the bend or over the crest of the hill so take these steps. You may not only save your life, but the lives of others.

Brad Klepper, Esq. is President of Interstate Trucker Ltd., a law firm entirely dedicated to legal defense of the nation's commercial drivers. Interstate Trucker represents truck drivers throughout the forty-eight (48) states on both moving and non-moving violations. Brad is also Executive Vice President & General Counsel of Drivers Legal Plan, which allows member drivers access to his firm’s services at greatly discounted rates. Brad spent almost a decade with the largest law firm in Oklahoma where his practice included extensive experience in transactional law, business defense litigation, and intellectual property. In addition, Brad is a licensed architect and serves as General Counsel to the Oklahoma Board of Architects, Landscape Architects and Interior Designers. Brad has dedicated much of his time to DataQs challenges, which are challenges posed to the FMCSA for CSA incidents, to examine data and reports filed by law enforcement.

800-333-DRIVE (3748) or www.interstatetrucker.com and www.driverslegalplan.com