Trust me, I’m a traffic control device

I almost witnessed a front page news story last night, if news was still printed on pages. It could have been “the 427 train derailed in Waltham.” In fact it was, “drivers jumped a red light and got away with it.” And I’m the only one printing it.

When the red lights at the railroad crossing started flashing I stopped, obediently. The arms went down. A train passed. The arms started rising. Traffic rushed across towards me even though the lights were still flashing. The half-raised arms switched direction and came down again.

There was a second train. That train passed and the arms went up a second time. Finally, the lights stopped flashing. Then I started moving.

I’d have called it tantamount to suicide if they had been killed. But that’s because I take train signals seriously.

Part of real driving, as opposed to passing the test, is knowing which signs, signals, and laws to respect.

Half a block later I stopped for a red left turn arrow that should have been a flashing yellow. I respect it at night because a cop likes to hide with lights out on the other corner — Beaver Street and Waverley Oaks in Waltham, if you drive west of Boston. As a traffic control device it does not impress me.

Behind me was a “30 mph” sign that has nothing to do with traffic safety. It is an empty threat from the city. That 35 mph sign on the road I turned onto was another joke, and I’m a bit skeptical of the “blind child” warning sign I’ve been passing for 16 years now. I know, because I’ve done the research, that most of the all way stops around here are purely for decoration. But train crossings are different to me.

Massachusetts actually has a law saying if you trespass onto railroad tracks you deserve what you get. The law was gutted by the state Supreme Court in 2006. That case also started when two trains crossed seconds apart. A girl ignored lights and bells and arms, walked into the path of the second train, died, and left her left parents a big check from the railroad.

So maybe the headline I missed was “railroad engineer convicted of manslaughter in deaths of drivers who drove under crossing gates.”

The opinions expressed in this post belong to the author and do not necessarily represent those of the National Motorists Association or the NMA Foundation. This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal advice. No representations are made regarding the accuracy of this post or the included links.

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