New York State DMV Increases Penalty for Railroad Crossing Violations

February 16, 2017

With growing recognition of the dangers at-grade railroad crossings, the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has increased the points assigned to motorists who violate the rules of the road at the nearly 2,700 railroad crossings around the state. Now, two years after the deadly Metro-North train crash in Valhalla, New York, drivers will be on notice that every effort should be taken to ensure safety at roadway intersections with railroad tracks. For many years, motorists who disobeyed traffic laws at railroad crossings risked, other than their lives and those around them, a fine and a modest 3-point penalty on their license, the same value as for speeding 1 to 10 miles per hour above the speed limit. The DMV has now increased the points for railroad crossing infractions to 5 points, to better reflect the seriousness of the risk people are taking when they do not behave lawfully while at these locations. News of the DMV’s action became clear at a legislative budget hearing yesterday when Assemblyman David Buchwald (D-Westchester) asked the Department’s Executive Deputy Commissioner, Theresa Egan, about the topic, and she reported that the change was put into place in August.

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“If you are knowingly reckless at railroad crossings, you are putting yourself, those around you, and those in the train at risk for a catastrophe,” said Assemblyman Buchwald. “The New York State DMV deserves great credit for increasing the punishment for railroad crossings infractions to better reflect the danger that law-breaking drivers can create. I applaud the DMV for taking action to combat unsafe actions at railroad crossings and my hope is that drivers will get the message that at railroad crossings all signals must be followed to keep everyone around them safe.”

The change in DMV regulations comes after the deadly Valhalla train crash in February 2015 in which six individuals were killed after an SUV pulled onto the tracks at a Metro-North Railroad grade crossing, four of those victims having been residents of Buchwald’s 93rd Assembly District. Shortly after the accident, Assemblyman Buchwald introduced a bill that would have increased the points for railroad crossing violations, with the primary goal being to convey to drivers that running thought a railroad crossing or getting too close to the tracks is more dangerous than the typical traffic infraction. In August of 2015, Assemblyman Buchwald sent a letter to Executive Deputy Commissioner Egan urging the DMV to increase the point penalty. In November 2015, the Department declined the request. Undaunted, Assemblyman Buchwald reached out to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs Metro-North Railroad, to gain support for an increased penalty for violations at railroad crossings and to convince the DMV to take action.

Last year, Assemblyman Buchwald was also the lead Assembly sponsor of legislation, authored and signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo, that implements more joint inspections of signals at railroad crossings, aligns state requirements with federal regulations on railroad bridge inspections, and increases penalties on railroad companies that do not comply with the regulations and on drivers that commit repeated railroad crossing violations.

While there is no one action will prevent all future crashes involving motor vehicles and trains at railroad crossing, it is believed that having a higher assessed point value for such violations, coupled with improved signage at crossings alerting motorists to the increased penalties, will serve as a significant reminder to drivers of the need to be extra cautious when approaching railroad tracks.