Earlier this year several law enforcement officers in S. Dakota were riding on a freight train as part of a training exercise when they saw a pickup truck ignore the flashing lights at a railroad crossing and drive right over the tracks.

According to the Aberdeen News, the driver was immediately pulled over by the Aberdeen police. The officers on the train were amused somewhat by the stupidity they witnessed; that someone would try to cross the tracks while a train was appproaching, but they also saw how often people ignore basic railroad safety.

Additionally, they saw how stressful it is for train conductors to watch people consistently making poor decisions.

BNSF Railway hosted the "Officer on the Train" program so that law enforcement officers could ride the train and see for themselves how motorists and pedestrians behave near crossings from the train's point of view, and maybe learn some tips on investigating train/auto collisions.

The train made several six-mile laps between Aberdeen and Grebner Station. In about two hours, officers saw plenty of poor behavior, the paper reported. Besides two vehicles ignoring bright flashing lights at crossings, they also saw a bicyclist ride around railroad crossing barriers after the train passsed by rather than wait a few moments for them to rise.

BNSF Engineer Tim Evans said that had the train changed direction, or, if another train had been approaching on the opposite track, it could have resulted in certain fatality.

A person on a train can see vehicles and pedestrians clearly, but that makes little difference when it comes to avoiding a crash, Evans said. Even traveling at 20 mph, --the maximum speed allowed for trains to travel within city limits-- there's not much a train can do to avoid a crash.

SUVs and trucks that look enormous from the sidewalk seem pint-sized when looking through a train's windows. Almost any vehicle that collides with a train would be demolished, but the train would barely see a dent, Evans added. A person riding in the train's rear cab wouldn't even realize that any collision had occurred.

Flashing yellow lights at a railroad crossing are equivalent to a stop sign, meaning a driver must come to a full stop and look both ways before proceeding. But during this exercise, police said car drivers treated them as if they were 'yield' signs, slowing down briefly and then speeding up when they felt the train was far enough away.

Such a casual approach means it's only a matter of time before carelessness becomes tragedy.

Amy McBeth, director of public affairs for BNSF Railway said people often misjudge how fast a train is moving and how close it is because of its size. So many people believe it's harmless to cross, even when they hear the whistle blow and see the warning lights. (Undoubtedly, these are the folks Charles Darwin had in mind...)

McBeth shared the following safety tips:

Trains don't travel at fixed times. Expect a train at every rail intersection.

All train tracks are private property. Do not walk on them.

The average locomotive weighs about 200 tons.

Trains have the right of way 100 percent of the time; including over emergency vehicles.

A train can extend more than three feet past the steel rail so the safety zone for pedestrians is further away.

Trains can move in either direction at any time; sometimes the railcars are pushed by locomotives instead of pulled.

Trains today are quieter and do not produce a clacking noise. They can be on you without you hearing them approach.

Only cross tracks at designated pedestrian or roadway crossings; and obey all warning signs and signals posted there.

Stay alert around railroad tracks. Avoid headphones, cellphones, texting or any other distractions.