Have you ever wondered why school buses stop and open their doors at railroad crossings? It’s to get a better look at whether a train is coming. But as a universal regulation, that action has a tragic story behind it.
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On the morning of December 1, 1938, in Salt Lake City, Utah, a tremendous blizzard wracked the countryside. That’s when a school bus carrying 39 kids between the ages of 12 and 18 to Jordan High School stopped at a railroad crossing, just as the law required. However, the zero-visibility conditions and fogged-up bus windows ensured that driver Farrold Silcox never saw the hurtling cow-catcher of the Flying Ute, a 50-car freight train, barreling down on him. We’d tell you to close your eyes at this point, but that would be irresponsible since we have no way of knowing if you’re currently approaching a railroad crossing.
It was the worst railroad crossing accident in U.S. history — the Flying Ute plowed into the bus at 60 miles per hour, dragging it for nearly half a mile before it could come to a stop. In all, 25 students, plus the driver, perished in the tragedy.
That accident directly led to the regulation that school bus drivers open the door at railroad crossings to get an unobstructed view of the tracks. You’ll also learn why natural gas has that smell, revolving doors have normal companion doors, mail is delivered to homes, and historical movies have a disclaimer, all in a list full of colorful language at Cracked.