Graphic television commercials that began airing Friday are intended to startle drivers into making better decisions at railroad crossings, law enforcement and railroad officials said.
This year, five people have been killed and five more injured during accidents at railroad crossings statewide. Thirteen more were killed during the past two years.
Desperate to slow the high number of crossing deaths, police turned to the dramatic television ads, part of a three-year “Highways or Dieways?” campaign, which kicked off Friday, that portray horrible railroad crossing accidents.
“What we’re depicting is what the officers are seeing every day,” said Idaho State Police Sgt. C.R. Kaffenberger.
Scenes on the nine, 30-second television spots are shocking. Accidents recreated in black and white graphically portray scenes involving a child walking on a train bridge, cars racing to beat trains, and motorists ignoring crossing signs.
In one, the father of a restless family of four guides their minivan around the crossing arms. His children are fighting in the back when the train slams into the minivan.
“You chose to follow others around the crossing gate,” the announcer says. “This is the next 60 seconds of your life.”
Kootenai and Boundary counties rank among the state’s top 10 for railroad collisions, said Bill Delyea of Operation Lifesaver, a nonprofit train safety group which helped coordinate the campaign. Approximately 65 trains a day rumble through North Idaho, he said.
“Everything that goes from the East Coast to the West Coast goes through North Idaho,” he said.
Impatient, inattentive drivers have caused several of the North Idaho accidents, officers said. Law enforcement and railroad officials said that even crossings that don’t have lights and crossing arms can be safe if drivers are patient and observant.
“There are no intersections where a train can creep up on people,” said ISP Capt. Willis Brownlee.
Rathdrum police Lt. Alex Carrington remembered responding to an accident at an intersection with two sets of tracks. Seeing a train stopped on the first set of tracks, a man in a Jeep had driven around the crossing arms.
The driver never saw the second train that hit him.
Assuming the engineer has seen you and can stop the train is incorrect, officers said.
“By the time (the engineer) sees a car on the tracks it’s too late,” Rathdrum police Officer Bert Washburn said.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: TIPS TO LIVE BY The average train traveling at 50 miles per hour takes a mile or more to stop. The impact of a train hitting a car is comparable to the force of a car crushing a soda can. Most railroad crossing collisions involve trains traveling at 35 mph or less. Active warning devices were in use at 50 percent of crossing accidents. A motorist is 30 times more likely to die in a collision with a train than with a car.
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