Operation Safe Tracks Leads to Citations, Warnings, and Arrests in Palm Beach County

March 10, 2022 Criminal Defense, Drunk Driving/DUI

Operation Safe Tracks Leads to Citations, Warnings, and Arrests in Palm Beach County

Tragic Accidents

Last month, Palm Beach County experienced three different accidents within a four-day period that involved a Brightline train striking a vehicle. Brightline is a privately run inter-city train company that runs between Miami and West Palm Beach. The accidents have occurred as a result of drivers driving around the gates and warning lights, flashing to indicate the train is approaching.

A video released by Brightline shows one of these accidents that occurred on February 16, resulting in crews having to use the “Jaws of Life” to rescue the driver, a 55-year old man from Miami Gardens who was pinned inside his car as a result of the crash and unfortunately suffered serious injuries. The accident was the 11th Brightline crash in South Florida since it resumed service on November 8th after shutting down during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office crash report did not state that criminal charges against the driver were pending, however, it did not that the driver committed “illegal actions.”

Florida Law

These “illegal actions” fall under Section 316.1575 of the Florida Statutes, titled “Obedience to Traffic Control Devises at Railroad-Highway Grade Crossings.”  Under this section, any person walking or driving a vehicle and approaching a railroad-highway grade crossing must stop within 50 feet but not less than 15 feet from the nearest rail of such railroad and shall not proceed until he or she can do so safely in the following circumstances:

  1. A clearly visible electric or mechanical signal device gives warning of the immediate approach of a railroad train;
  2. A crossing gate is lowered or a law enforcement officer or a human flagger gives or continues to give a signal of the approach or passage of a railroad train;
  3. An approaching railroad train emits an audible signal or the railroad train, by reason of its speed or nearness to the crossing, is an immediate hazard; or
  4. An approaching railroad train is plainly visible and is in hazardous proximity to the railroad-highway grade crossing, regardless of the type of traffic control devices installed at the crossing.

The statute also states that no person shall drive any vehicle through, around, or under any crossing gate or barrier at a railroad-highway grade crossing while the gate or barrier is closed or is being opened or closed. In the instance of the above-mentioned accident, the driver violated numerous parts of the statute since he failed to stop less than 15 feet in front of the railroad when the gates were down, and warning lights were flashing and proceeded to drive around the gate.

Violation of this statute is a noncriminal traffic infraction, punishable under Section 381.18 of the Florida Statutes as either a pedestrian violation or a moving violation if the infraction resulted from the operation of a vehicle. Pedestrian violations will result in a $15 fine. Moving violations will result in a $60 fine. The fine for a moving violation will increase depending on if the driver was driving over the speed limit and what they exceeded the speed limit by.

Palm Beach County’s Response

As a result of these accidents, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office began Operation Safe Tracks around Florida East Coast Railway tracks. In just two weeks, the Sheriff’s Office issued 226 traffic citations, 233 warnings and made seven arrests. These arrests comprised four drug possession charges and three outstanding warrant charges. Sheriff’s Office spokeswomen Teri Barbera stressed this operation was to educate the public about the dangers of driving around lowered or lowering railroad crossing gates, and not following other legal provisions when it comes to railroads.

Brightline currently runs along the FEC corridor between Miami and West Palm Beach multiple times a day at nearly 80 mph but will soon be expanding to Orlando. With this expansion, Brightline will travel up to 120 mph in rural areas. According to an analysis of crashes by the Associated Press, Brightline was deemed the deadliest railroad in the country just a year into its operations. However, none of the 60 fatalities that arose out of accidents with Brightline were the fault of the railroad.

Tallahassee Criminal Defense Attorney

If you or a loved one are facing legal repercussions stemming from failing to obey railroad crossing laws, contact a knowledgeable Tallahassee criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Don Pumphrey and the members of the legal team at Pumphrey Law Firm have the experience necessary to fight zealously in your corner. Give us a call at (850) 681 – 7777 or send an online message today to discuss your legal matter during an open and free consultation with an attorney in our team.

Written by Sarah Kamide

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