So I'm driving down the road today, and we're coming up to the only Train Crossing on my daily drive. The car in front of me gets the bright idea to shift into the far right lane from the middle lane, seeing it easy, however he stops after getting halfway and shifts back. I'm a little curious, and bored, so I glance over as we go over the train crossing to see a School Bus parked on the tracks, which starts moving again just as I pass it. The good old fashion 'Why is that a law?' question pops into my mind and I'm bored enough to actually analyze the costs/benefits of such an idea compared to not having that law in a coherent manor (I'm usually too tired to think and drive at the same time without crashing in the morning
So I think to myself, hmm...what are all the possible situations that a bus can encounter at a train track when it stops, making up a sort of extended Truth table in my mind. Here's what I got.
(I assume there are no gates or that they'll magically malfunctioning as no bus is going to stop on the tracks if the gates are down)
1. No Train for Miles
With Law - Bus stops for no good reason, slowing traffic and making people angry in addition to causing a significant increase in the chance of an accident as people tend to pull out into the next lane to get around buses and may end up hitting other cars pulling out.
Without Law - Bus goes over tracks without slowing, no problems
ADVANTAGE - No Law
2. Train close enough to hit bus if it simply drives over
With Law - Bus stops on tracks, is hit long before fully stopping, driver likely killed, better hope your kid was in the back
Without Law - Bus tries to go straight over the tracks, train hits somewhere in the middle/back and likely kills the kids there
ADVANTAGE - Law
3. Train far enough away that it would miss the bus if it simply drives over, but close enough to hit the stopped bus
With Law - Bus stops on tracks, is hit, driver likely killed, better hope your kid was in the back
Without Law - Bus drives over tracks, is completely unaffected
ADVANTAGE - No Law
4. Train at the perfect distance to hit the bus if it stops but give the driver enough time to reverse off the track and survive
With Law - Bus stops on tracks, driver sees train, slams it into to reverse and 'guns' it (as much as you can gun it in a bus). Train near miss, good luck to any cars behind the buss
Without Law - Bus drives over tracks, unaffected
ADVANTAGE - Close, but No Law causes no traffic backup and cuts the chance of an accident down whereas Law may cause an accident, No Law
(There are a few more, but they all are pretty similar to #4 and all end up the same way)
So it seems that the only time the law is going to be helpful is if the train is close enough to hit the bus whether or not it stops, and then it's only benefit is killing the driver rather than the kids. Here's an interesting idea, why not have the bus stop BEFORE the tracks and so save both the driver and the kids in that situation?
I mean, to use some logical physics, the worst thing you can do is come to a stop in front of that which you are trying to avoid, it's much better to stop before or after you're out of it's way as it takes much longer to get out of the way from rest than it does if you have any initial velocity. Assuming you slam the accelerator in every circumstance and the train is the same distance when your front wheels hit the tracks then you have a great chance to get clear if you have a high initial velocity, a good chance if you have a low initial velocity, and an awful chance if you have no initial velocity.
I can just imagine the conversation that went on to start this law.
Bill - Okay, we had a bad train and bus accident today, we should pass a law to make it look like we're trying to help.
Ted - Well what if we had the buses stop and check if a train was coming?
Bill - That's a great idea, that way we can blame the driver for not being thorough enough if a bus does get hit! Okay, where should they stop?
Ted - Probably before the tracks, that way they won't get hit
Will - No way man, there are like, trees, that could block their sight to the train. If they park on the tracks they can see for miles in both directions
Ted - Yeah, and they can get hit much easier
Bill - Good idea guys, we'll have them stop on the track, no should they stop at gated ones?
Will - Totally
Ted - What's the point? Gates work just fine at preventing car accidents. And stopping on the tracks is dumb.
Bill - Ted, Ted, think of the children in the bus, how would you feel if they died because the bus didn't see the train coming due to a conveniently placed tree and happened to drive through a gate and not stop on the tracks? I'm afraid we're going to have to let you go, you obviously don't care about the children on those buses. Will, you get a raise.
Now I guess this law may have made a little sense when trains were slower and carrying less cargo, a bus on the tracks could be seen and allow the train to slow so the bus could get clear. With modern trains that take miles to stop, however, the difference in time between a train slowing down and a train going at a constant speed reaching the bus is pretty tiny.
One of these days I hope they revise this law to be something like:
"All Buses much stop short of the tracks and check for a train, opening the window and turning off music to hear a train coming, at any tracks that do not have gates"
Can anyone point out a flaw in my logic that shows the benefit of having buses stop on tracks? It doesn't annoy me too much, as I learned long ago to stay out of their lane if tracks are coming, but it does worry me a little and seem unnecessary.