Safely moving farm equipment on public roads can be a challenge
Spring is crunch time for farmers trying to get their crops planted. A little patience and a few simple rules can assure it is not crash time for farm equipment and motorist.
“I thought I was going to be an eye-witness to an accident and I couldn’t do anything to prevent it.”
Moving equipment from one field to another during planting season is a common event. In this case, the farmer was using a semi-truck and trailer to move supplies needed for planting corn. Even with a vehicle designed for the road, there are risks. Large trucks do not come up to speed quickly and often need to make wide turns to enter into field drives.
Now, back to my scary eye-witness account. The semi pulled out of the field when no traffic was in sight, but soon after, a passenger car with a driver on his cell phone crested the hill behind the semi. The driver of the car saw the slow-moving truck and was able to adjust his speed, but I could see that the driver was very impatient. The semi was only traveling one-third of a mile to the next field. To enter the field, the truck needed to make a right turn. While this is not as risky as a left-hand turn, it did require the truck to pull into the left lane to maneuver into the small field drive. At that moment, the car considered passing the truck on the right! This move would have certainly led to an accident, damaging both vehicles and possibly injuring the occupants of the car. Fortunately, the driver of the car decided to wait, but did show his frustration by squealing his tires as he sped away.
This story highlights two of the common causes of farm equipment and motor vehicle accidents: rear-end collisions and passing when equipment is turning into a farm or field drive.
Motorists traveling on rural roads should be on the lookout for farm equipment; flashing lights, slow-moving vehicle signs and vehicles that don’t look like a passenger car or light truck are signs to slow down and see what is in the road ahead. Farm equipment travels slow, maybe just 15 miles per hour. At this speed, a car approaching from behind at 55 miles per hour has only about 300 feet to stop. That is just five seconds. Looking down at the radio dial or glancing at a cell phone could take precious seconds away from that stop time.
Passing while turning
Farmers often use public roads when moving equipment from field to field. Farm equipment is large and the driver may need to swing to the left or the right to make the turn into the drive. Drivers should not assume that the equipment is moving over to allow them to pass. Check for blinkers on the tractor, hand-signals from the driver or the presence of a driveway, and then wait to see if the equipment is in fact turning. This will only take a few seconds and once the turn is complete, the road is clear for travel.
A little patience goes a long way when sharing the road with farm equipment. Following equipment at 20 miles per hour for two miles may seem like a lifetime, but it takes only six minutes of your time, which is about the same as waiting for two stoplights.
While traveling rural roads, motorist should:
- Slow down immediately at the first sign of farm equipment ahead.
- Be patient and wait for an opportunity to safely pass. Normal traffic rules apply, so don’t pass in a no passing zone.
- Approach on-coming farm equipment cautiously; impatient motorist following the equipment may try to pass and enter your lane, or the wide equipment may make your passage way narrow.
Farmers traveling rural roads with equipment should:
- Mount a Slow Moving Vehicle (SMV) emblem to all tractors, combines and implements transported on public roads.
- Use flashing amber lights when traveling public roads.
- Consider pulling off the road when safe to allow traffic to pass, especially if traffic is piling up and you are traveling a long distance.
- Use turn signals, proper hand signals or an escort vehicle to communicate turning intentions to motorists.
- Do not allow equipment to cross the centerline when visibility is poor (dark, curve, hill, etc.).
Farmers and motorist share the roads in rural areas. Having patience and following a few simple rules can make this a safe experience for both parties.
For more information on road safety, read “Farmers and motorists can work together to prevent traffic collisions involving farm equipment” from Michigan State University Extension.