Wheat harvest and soybean planting is in full swing! So if you travel roadways in an agricultural area, please be mindful that farmers often need to move equipment from one field to another, but sometimes those transitions require maneuvering large machinery down or across public roads. With more than 78,000 miles of public roads and 77,000 farms found in the Commonwealth, the opportunity for on-the-road encounters with farm equipment is quite realistic for many drivers.
It is completely legal for farm machinery to drive on Kentucky roadways, but when these slow-moving farm vehicles enter areas normally traversed by fast-moving cars and trucks, accidents sometimes occur. A vehicle traveling at highway speeds can cover hundreds of yards in just a matter of seconds and, especially at this time of year, unexpectedly come bumper-to-bumper with a large piece of farm equipment moving down the road at a much slower pace.
Every year there are farm vehicle collisions and The state police labeled the majority of those accidents the result of “inattention” – further proof that increased caution during harvest/planting season is needed to prevent tragedy.
In an effort to help drivers avoid accidents with slow-moving farm equipment this spring, Kentucky Farm Bureau offers the following suggestions for both motorists and farmers. While each roadway encounter is unique, a general sense of awareness and caution goes a long way in keeping everyone safe and preventing tragedy.
Tips for motorists:
- Slow down and pay attention to the road. Radios, cell phones and even passengers can lead to distracted drivers and slower reaction times. Focus on the traffic in front of the vehicle and stay within the posted speed limits, especially when traveling through areas where agriculture is prominent.
- Don’t assume the farmer knows you are there. While most farmers check frequently for vehicles approaching from behind them, their focus must remain on the road ahead. Drive far enough behind farm equipment to ensure farmers can see the vehicle in their mirrors. Also remember that farm machinery is very loud and may prevent the operator from hearing another vehicle’s approach.
- Keep your distance when following farm equipment. The triangular slow-moving vehicle emblem displayed on the back of farm equipment signifies that the machinery will not be traveling at high speeds and maneuverability is limited. Stay back and don’t tailgate. Slow-Moving Vehicle (SMV) signs are orange or red triangular signs that are placed on the back of equipment. This is your warning to slow down. Did you know it takes just five seconds for a car traveling 55 miles per hour to close a distance the size of a football field on a tractor or combine? Stay back and stay alert!
If farm equipment pulls to the right side of the road, it does not necessarily mean it is making room for other vehicles to pass. It is also possible that the farmer is slowing down and drifting right to gain extra room for a wide left turn.
- Use extreme caution when passing. If you cannot clearly see what lies ahead of both your vehicle and the equipment you intend to get ahead of, do not pass. Never pass farm equipment when approaching a hill or curve, and do not attempt to pass when within 100 yards of an intersection, bridge, railroad crossing or tunnel.
- Exhibit patience and slow down as soon as you spot a piece of farm equipment. Those tractors don’t want to be on the road any more than you want them to be. You are not the only one eager to get the farm equipment off the road and out of the way. Farmers must move their machinery carefully along roadways and have lower maximum speeds by which they can travel. When traveling behind these slow-moving vehicles, patiently wait for the operator to find an appropriate time to let you pass. Don’t assume this can be done at any time. The farmer must survey the shoulder of the road for an area that is not soft, wet or steep and can support the weight of the equipment without causing it to tip.
Tips for farmers:
- Make sure the slow-moving vehicle sign is visible. This emblem is used to alert others of the equipment’s speed and maneuverability capabilities, but doesn’t help if it is not visible. Mount it as high and as far left as possible. Keep the sign clean and replace it if it is no longer reflective.
- Never post a slow-moving vehicle sign on a mailbox or fence post. Misuse of the slow-moving vehicle emblem can confuse motorists and eventually dull their sensitivity to the need to slow down when seeing one on machinery traveling down the road. Slow-moving vehicle signs should only be posted on appropriate equipment.
- Keep flashing lights on. Use flashing lights on equipment to draw attention to your slow speed.
- Stay to the right. Keep farm equipment as far to the right edge of the road as safely possible, but stay on the road. Driving with equipment half on and half off the road might encourage a motorist to attempt passing before it is safe.
- Make intentions to turn obvious. Collisions between farm equipment and other vehicles on the road commonly occur when a slow-moving vehicle is attempting to turn. Use turn signals or the appropriate hand signal to indicate turns. If the operator is using flashing lights, switch those off when approaching a turn so that the trailing vehicles know more clearly where the equipment is headed.
- Avoid encouraging a motorist to pass. While it might seem courteous to wave someone ahead of a slow-moving piece of equipment, the driver of the trailing vehicle must ultimately determine when he or she can safely pass.
- When it is safe, pull over to allow traffic to pass. The bulky frames and slow speeds of farm equipment often causes backups in traffic. As shoulder conditions allow, find a place to safely pull over and allow trailing vehicles to pass.
Working together and remembering these safety tips will help everyone get home safely!