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Published: Tuesday, 3/6/2001

Common sense at crossings

The report of a decline in rail-crossing accidents last year in both Michigan and Ohio is heartening, but far too many people, young ones especially, are still shortening their lives prematurely by playing games of “chicken” with hundreds of tons of steel in motion.

Ohio had 326 crossing accidents in 1990, 176 in 1996, and 133 last year, resulting in 60, 13, and 25 deaths respectively. Michigan reported 93 collisions and pedestrian accidents at public grade crossings, five fewer than the year before. Last year's incidents killed 13 and injured 40.

Ideally, the numbers should drop to zero in both states, but that would require common sense among drivers, and an understanding that life involves occasional delays.

In Ohio, a utilities commission spokesman said most crossings with the worst accident records now have warning lights and gates, and that putting such safety devices at other crossings still without them won't produce the same level of results.

That does not mean it isn't worth phasing them in. Lives are not proper objects for cost-benefit analyses.

Michigan credits better education programs and stricter enforcement for the decline in its grade-crossing accident rate. If these work, Ohio should employ them, too.

In the end, safe and sensible driving judgments by individual motorists will do more to stanch accident and death tolls at railroad crossings than anything else. It still comes down to personal responsibility.

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