Gates were down and functioning properly at the railroad crossing, according to witnesses. Tristan Hicks Williams, 26, drove her minivan around them anyway.

Her decision was a fatal one. She was killed when a train going full-speed slammed into her Dodge Caravan on Tuesday morning in the Chicago-area accident. Her two children were injured, but survived thanks in part to a good Samaritan who tried to pull them from the wreckage, according to WLS-TV.

The accident occurred near 115th and Vincennes in Morgan Park. The Rock Island District Metra collided with the minivan at about 70 miles per hour. The surviving boys, JohnKing, 6, and Jayvon, 4, are expected to recover. The older of the two sustained two broken legs, and family members tell NBC-TV that he may need to re-learn how to walk.

There are thousands of collisions between trains and cars each year, although the number has consistently declined over the past two decades, according to Federal Railroad Administration data. In 1981, there were 9,461 collisions. Last year, there were 1,968, only the second time the number had fallen below 2,000.

The number of fatalities has declined along with overall collisions. In 1981, there were 728 fatalities. In 2011, there was 266, although the number had not yet been finalized.

Drivers are almost 20 times more likely to die in a crash involving a train than a crash involving another motorist, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Although in this case it may seem obvious, here are some tips on how to make sure you stay safe while driving around and over railroad tracks:
  • Don't drive around the gates when they are down. Don't do it. Ever.
  • Remember that trains are wider than their tracks. Stop at least 15 feet away from the railroad tracks.
  • Watch for a second train. If one has passed, another could be behind it, coming from the opposite direction or on a second track.
  • Look both ways before crossing. Always.