Traveling across the country can be an eye-opening experience thanks to the many natural attractions, monuments and tourist attractions you may come across. Driving across the country also can be dangerous for those drivers who do not know the rules of the road -- particularly the rules at railroad crossings. Understanding the purpose of flashing red lights and other warning signals can help increase your likelihood of having a safe trip.

Flashing Red Lights

Flashing red lights at railroad crossings are often accompanied by other types of warning devices. When you approach a railroad crossing and you see flashing red lights, this means that either a train is on the tracks or a train is approaching. In either instance, you should stop. Not only is it unlawful to cross the tracks while the red light is flashing, it also could prove to be fatal.

Accompanying Warnings

In addition to seeing flashing red lights at railroad crossings, you also may come across gates that restrict traffic from crossing the tracks. These gates typically lower themselves a few seconds after the red lights begin to flash. Drivers also may see pavement markings that warn them that they are approaching a railroad crossing. All railroad crossings also include a crossbuck "Railroad Crossing" sign. Those crossings that include more than one rail feature a rectangular sign under the crossbuck that informs them of how many tracks are at the crossing.

Driving Procedures

Do not attempt to cross a railroad crossing when the red lights are flashing. Even if it appears as if you can cross with time to spare, the speed of the train could be deceptive. Likewise, a train may be coming in the opposite direction that you did not see. Do not rely on the sound of the train or the flashing red lights to warn you of the existence of a train. Loud car radios or electricity outages could affect your ability to be properly warned by the train's horn or by the flashing lights at a crossing.

Types of Crossings

Two types of railroad crossings exist. Passive railroad crossings do not include flashing red lights or gates. These types of railroad crossings are more common at areas with less traffic. Passive crossings do have yellow warning signs and pavement markings. Active crossings do include the flashing red lights and gates. These crossings also often include bells that sound as a train approaches.