House bill says train conductors, passengers cannot be auto accident witnesses

Passengers_in_Amtrak_lounge_car_of_San_Joaquin_(train)_2014

A new Florida House bill says that train conductors and passengers are not, for the purposes of crash reports, auto accident witnesses.

While that may seem obvious, current statute leaves that concept open for interpretation.

HB 959, filed by Jacksonville Republican Jason Fischer, revises current law to make explicit that people on trains are not considered passengers for purpose of making crash reports.

To that end, a conductor of a train is not a driver of a motor vehicle. A passenger of a train is not a passenger of a motor vehicle. And a train is not a motor vehicle.

Florida Politics asked Fischer what drove the need for the change.

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“Currently,” Fischer said, “when an accident happens within a rail corridor, law enforcement may board the train and interview every passenger as a potential witness even though Chapter 316.003 exempts trains. Due to the linear, fixed-route nature of trains, passengers do not witness striking incidents when they occur on the corridor. This can act to hold the train at the scene for unnecessary hours in often hot weather or in areas of the corridor not close to a station or grade crossing.”

This omission of language leads to unintended consequences.

“As a result,” Fischer added, “trains can lose air conditioning causing potentially hazardous conditions, riders miss flights they cannot have reimbursed and employees lose valuable work time and pay. This can lead to riders attempting to egress the train in an unsafe manner rather than allowing the railroad moving the train to a location where passengers can disembark and be transported by other means.”

“HB 959, an act relating to Motor Vehicles and Railroad Trains, simply makes more clear to investigators responding to an incident involving a train that the vehicle is not a ‘motor vehicle’ and its occupants and operators are not considered ‘passengers’ for the purposes of the chapter,” Fischer added, “allowing law enforcement to release the train or its passengers from the scene quickly and safely.”

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski



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