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If you’re heading out to the rural areas to enjoy fall activities such as picking pumpkins and apples or drive the rural roads to take in the fall colors, you’re likely to encounter slow moving farm equipment and farm trucks.
Fall harvest season is underway throughout the state and will continue for the next couple of months. That means it’s time for all motorists to be especially aware of farm equipment and to slow down when encountering farm equipment or farm trucks involved in harvest activities.
It’s legal to drive farm machinery on public roads and it’s often the only way farmers can get from field to field. The combination of slow traveling farm equipment and faster motor vehicles means the time before the two meet can be seconds. Any type of distracted driving – talking on cellphone, checking a text message, being tired- can make stopping without a crash almost impossible.
Cheryl Skjolaas, University of Wisconsin-Extension agricultural safety specialist, says drivers must remember that farm equipment is not very maneuverable and its size makes it hard to move over quickly or to see other drivers that are following or passing farm equipment.
“It’s important to be alert and remember that these farm vehicles don’t behave like cars and pick-up trucks when it comes to speed, turning or braking,” she said.
Skjolaas offered some tips and reminders for motorists on rural roads:
• Farm machinery that travels less than 25 miles per hour (mph) should display an orange ‘slow moving vehicle’ or SMV emblem on the back. Increasingly, self-propelled farm vehicles have amber strobe lamps to indicate slower or wider vehicle.
• A road sign to watch for is a yellow and black warning sign with the symbol of a farmer driving a tractor. These signs are within 500 feet of a driveway to alert motorists of a farm or field drive with an obstructed view such as on a hill or around a curve.
• The farm vehicle operator may not be able to see around the equipment, so don’t assume that the operator knows you are approaching. Similar to semi-trucks, many use large extended mirrors. When a driver follows too closely, the vehicle isn’t visible to the farm equipment operator. Keep a safe distance back.
• A majority of farm equipment and motor vehicle crashes occur when the farm equipment operator slows down to turn left and the motorist behind moves to pass. When you pass farm machinery, make sure the driver is not about to turn left. Before you decide to pass, look for driveways into farms or fields where the farm vehicle operator could be turning. Check for turn signals. On farm tractors or self-propelled machines like combines, the flashing lights are also turn signals. When following the slow moving machines for a distance, it is easy to miss that these lights are now turn signals. Or watch for the operator to use a hand signal when signal lights are not present.
• Farm equipment operators are not required to drive on the road shoulders. If safe, the farm machinery operator may pull off on the shoulder to allow traffic to pass. Oncoming drivers should decrease speed and watch for lights and markings that help to indicate the extremities of the farm machinery.
• Some wide equipment may extend into the oncoming traffic lane. Also, make sure the road is wide enough and watch for road-side obstacles such as mailboxes or bridges that might cause the equipment operator to move to the left.
• At night or during low light conditions, lighting and marking requirements for farm equipment do apply. Headlights and tail-lights are required. Field work lamps should be turned off when traveling on the road.
• Farm machinery crossing the road moves slowly and may be pulling equipment that will take longer to clear the road. Don’t try to pass on the left as the equipment may swing out differently than you expect.
• In addition, make sure that you have enough time and distance to pass safely. It is illegal to pass farm equipment in no passing zones.
Slow down, enjoy the drive on a rural road and stay safe.