Spring is finally here and farmers are eager to get in the fields, which increase the chances of encountering farm equipment on the road. This means possible delays while being stuck behind slow-moving vehicles. It may be frustrating but it is important to be considerate to farmers for your safety and theirs.
Working in the agriculture industry, I often hear stories of farm accidents or dangerous situations caused by motorists trying to pass farm equipment unsafely. Here are some tips to follow while sharing the road with farm equipment:
• Farmers are required to display SMV (slow-moving vehicle) signs on any machine that travels slower than 25 mph. If you come across this emblem which has an orange triangle center and red reflective strips around the edges, it is a warning to slow down. Some farm equipment can travel faster than 25 mph, however, will still not be traveling at the posted speed; so anytime you see farm equipment, slow down. Farmers will have amber lights and or reflective tape to indicate the extremities of the equipment.
• Assess the situation. There may or may not be an opportunity to pass the equipment. Take into consideration the size of the equipment and how much of the road is being taken up. As production agriculture grows, so does the size of equipment. Some equipment may take up more than one lane, making it very difficult and unsafe to maneuver around. Be patient. Farmers know they are slowing down traffic and, if there is a safe place to pull over and let cars by, they will. Some new machinery has cameras to help farmers see cars behind them. However, never assume a farmer can see your vehicle.
• Watch for hand signals. If the tractor veers to the right, that doesn’t mean they are pulling off for cars to pass. They may be making a left turn and are giving themselves the necessary space to turn wide. Trust the farmer’s signals as they have a better vantage point and can indicate when it is clear to pass.
• Do not expect all farm equipment to pull off the road. The shoulder may be too small, steep, wet or soft and could cause the equipment to overturn. If the farm equipment is on a busy road, they may choose not to pull off because it will be difficult to get back on with the traffic. Be respectful if there is no room to pass and the farmer doesn’t pull over. Don’t try to pass anyway.
• If the opportunity arises to pass the equipment, make sure the road is clear and there is plenty of room. Avoid passing where there is a poor line of sight due to hills or curves. Speeding past farm machinery is not a good idea as it may create turbulence and cause the equipment to sway.
• Never pull out in front of a slow-moving vehicle or brake suddenly because their maneuverability is much less than that of a car. Keep in mind how much larger the equipment is and how easily it could crush a car.
• When traveling in the opposite direction as farm equipment on a small road, it may be in your best interest to pull off and let the equipment pass. It is much easier for a car or truck to pull to the side than a large piece of equipment. At the end of the day, it is more important for everyone to be safe than to make it to work on time.
• Farmers can help ensure public safety by making sure their equipment is well kept up and working properly. Before moving equipment on the roadways, all lights and slow-moving vehicle signs should be working and visible.
• Farmers can try to limit movement on busy roads during high-traffic hours to reduce traffic slowdowns. Following cars with hazard lights can provide an escort for farm equipment.
• If multiple pieces of equipment need to be moved, they should be spaced out to allow for other motorists to pass safely.
Remember that farming is a livelihood and — just like everyone else — they need to travel to work. They are not trying to inconvenience anyone but moving farm machinery is just part of their job. Be patient on the roads and pay close attention to slow-moving vehicles so everyone stays safe this planting season.