WEST LAFAYETTE, IN -- With planting season underway throughout Indiana, a Purdue Extension agricultural safety and health specialist is urging motorists and farmers alike to use caution when traveling on rural roadways.
“There is a shared responsibility for making sure our roadways remain safe,” said Bill Field, professor of agricultural and biological engineering. “There are certain times of year when farm vehicles will be more prevalent, such as spring planting and fall harvest, and motorists need to recognize that and exercise patience.”
Field said modern farm vehicles have more safety equipment than previous models, including better lighting, but the individual vehicles are much larger and pose a greater danger in a collision. Tractors, planters, sprayers and other farm equipment can be two to three times the height of passenger vehicles, weigh up to 40,000 pounds, and take up more than a lane of a traffic.
“What appears to be happening is that we are seeing more severe injuries to motorists who run into vehicles much larger than their own,” Field said. “For many drivers, speed is of the essence, and that is not a good match for these slower-moving farm vehicles.”
Farm vehicles typically travel at 20-25 mph, about half the speed of passenger vehicles on state and county highways. Slamming on the brakes to avoid a slow-moving farm vehicle could cause a chain-reaction collision.
Although there are fewer farm vehicles on the road than in previous years, farmers are now traveling greater distances between fields, meaning their vehicles are on the road for longer periods, Field said.
“Farmers need to take a look at where their fields are located and maybe think about better ways to transport their equipment, including the use of trailers and escort vehicles,” he said.
Farmers should also be aware that changing legal standards mean they could be held liable for traffic accidents involving their vehicles, with potentially devastating financial implications, Field said.
“Thirty years ago, it was rare to see farmers sued for accidents, but these days there is a greater expectation that farmers have greater responsibility and could be at fault,” he said.
Field offers tips to keep both motorists and farmers safer on the road throughout the growing season.
• Be aware - Watch for roadway obstructions like slow-moving farm vehicles and avoid distracted driving behaviors, such as texting.
• Slow down - Especially when passing through agricultural areas.
• Keep your distance - drivers should allow at least 3 seconds’ distance from any vehicle they are following.
• Pass with care - Pass only on straightaways with good visibility, and make sure the farm vehicle is not swinging wide to make a left turn.
• Be patient - In heavy traffic conditions, farmers are expected to pull over and let other vehicles pass but only if conditions are safe to do so.
• Don’t park trucks on side of a main road while loading grain.
• Make sure all farm vehicles are clearly marked with “slow vehicle” signage.
• Make sure all vehicle lights are operating.
• Consider using escort vehicles and trailers to transport farm equipment over longer distances.