Area law enforcement agencies often teach various safety practices to those they protect, but too many people don’t give enough thought to one threat that’s being addressed by the Gibsonville Police Department –crossing railroad tracks.

On Thursday, June 6, the department is hosting a railroad crossing safety day in conjunction with NC Operation Lifesaver and the NC Dept. of Transportation’s BeRailSafe program.

Gibsonville Police Chief Ron Parrish and the Gibsonville Police Department will host a ‘crossing blitz’ from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. that day to raise awareness of the right way to cross tracks.

Society now seems to have a day or a month for every interest group and concern – and, June 6 is International Level Crossing Awareness Day.  The day is meant to educate drivers on safety when crossing tracks.  (The day’s name comes from the fact that, internationally, railroad-highway crossings are called “level crossings.”)

Those promoting the safety program in Gibsonville say that railroad crossing safety is a vitally important issue, especially, in states such as North Carolina with a lot of rail traffic.

In 2018, there were 56 crossing crashes in this state alone. That was a 30 percent increase in crossing crashes over 2017.   Across the state, those accidents led to 12 fatalities and 24 injuries.

Roger Smock, a rail safety consultant with the state’s BeRailSafe program, said this week the trend on rail crossing accidents had gone down in recent decades but he added that there’s a lot of work to be done on this front.

“In 1976, the US experienced 13,030 railroad crossing collisions,” he said, adding, “North Carolina averaged more than one per day that year at 366.”

Both of those numbers have come down a great deal since then but not by enough: On average, a vehicle or person is struck by a train every three hours in the US.

In 2018, the US had 2,214 crossing collisions.

“That’s a great improvement but our goal is zero,” he said.

Experts say that nearly all railroad-highway collisions are preventable.

International Level Crossing Awareness Day is a continuation of the first European Level Crossing Awareness Day held in June 2009 in 28 countries, which was meant to raise “public awareness on the dangers of misbehavior at railroad-highway crossings.”

For 2019, the 11th year of the day’s observance, 47 countries will simultaneously campaign to encourage motorists and pedestrians to drive and walk safely around railroads and railroad crossings.  The group’s 2019 motto goes like this, “The most important STOP of the day.”

According to a press release announcing the day of crossing safety,  “Although the number of railroad crossing collisions is far less than highway collisions, the likelihood of death is greater and the cost to society per crossing collision is believed to be hundreds, if not thousands of times greater for a railroad related incident.”

Margaret Cannell, Executive Director of NC Operation Lifesaver, said she hopes the Gibsonville event gets the message out.

“A crossing blitz is similar to a license check, with officers distributing information about rail safety and reminding motorists to never stop on tracks or go around lowered crossing gates,” she said.  “North Carolina is 12th in the nation in highway-incidents as a result of the upswing in 2018.”