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Certain vehicles must stop when crossing railroad tracks

August 7, 2010
By Dave Werner, Franklin County Traffic Safety Board

Article 1171 of New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law requires that certain vehicles MUST stop prior to crossing a railroad track.

The law further specifies that the stop must be within 50 feet but not less than 15 feet from the nearest rail of a railroad grade crossing, and while stopped, the driver shall look in both directions for an approaching train, and for signals indicating an approaching train and shall not proceed unless he can do so safely.

All motorists are aware of some vehicles that always stop, but how many know what vehicles must stop and under what conditions?

This law mandates that all school buses, whether they have any passengers or not, must stop at all railroad crossings. Also, any bus carrying passengers (tour buses, for example) must stop. However, if a bus other than a school bus has no passengers, it does not have to stop, although it may do so anyway so as not to confuse motorists that may expect it to.

It is also a required stop for any vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating of greater than 10,000 pounds, whether it's loaded or empty, that is used to transport hazardous materials. Any vehicle required to be marked or placarded (the diamond-shaped signs seen on such trucks) by either the U.S. or the state department of transportation must stop as well. This would include any vehicle carrying explosive substances or flammable liquids. Trucks carrying chlorine are also mandated to stop.

Another, less obvious part of Article 1171 applies to any crawler-type tractor, steam shovel, derrick, roller, or any equipment or structure having a normal operating speed of ten or less mph. Another, even more vague restriction applies to a vertical body or load clearance measured above the level surface of the roadway, which is not common enough to go into detail with in this article.

For all of the vehicles required to stop, Article 1171 further mandates that once a driver determines that it is safe to cross the tracks, he must use a gear that will not require any changing gears while traversing the crossing and also makes it a violation if the driver does shift.

Now that you are aware of the vehicle and traffic law that applies to certain vehicles crossing railroad tracks, you can be aware that, if you are following such a vehicle, in all probability it will be stopping before traversing the tracks.

You may visit the website of the Traffic Safety Board at to view this and all of my previous articles on vehicle and traffic law and traffic safety.


Dave Werner can be reached at

Dave Werner can be reached at



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