Machinery Chatter

Think Safety on the Roads

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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Motorists should be aware that farm equipment requires wide turns to enter fields. (DTN/The Progressive Farmer photo by Bob Elbert)

Spring is a busy time on rural roads and highways all across North America. Farmers are moving tractors and various implements from field to field while local ag businesses are also out there with various spreaders and sprayers, as well as supply trucks.

Increased machinery on the roads can lead to accidents. A family friend tells of being rear-ended 10 to 15 years ago while traveling down the highway with a tractor and sprayer. The accident completely destroyed the sprayer and the other person's car, but neither driver was hurt. They were lucky.

Some are not so lucky.

A farmer from Minnesota called me many years ago to tell me he had lost a son/daughter-in-law and grandchildren in a springtime accident between the car they were driving and some sort of farm machinery. He broke down and cried while on the phone with me. That is a call I will never forget.

All drivers should pay special attention as they travel rural roads in the spring, according to University of Missouri Extension health and safety specialist Karen Funkenbusch.

In a press release, Funkenbusch said slow-moving farm equipment presents special dangers for motorists. The most common accident occurs when a farm vehicle turns left because large farm equipment makes wide turns to line up with a field entrance or driveway.

Motorists should slow down when farm equipment is present, she said. A car traveling 55 mph requires 224 feet to stop on dry pavement, assuming average reaction time for braking. At 55 mph, it takes a car just five seconds to close the length of a football field and overtake a tractor moving 15 mph.

Funkenbusch recommends drivers stay back from farm machinery. Use caution and patience. Know that noise from the equipment's motor and tires may make it difficult for the driver to hear approaching vehicles.

"Getting to your destination safely is the main goal," Funkenbusch said. "A few extra minutes may save lives."

Most farmers make every effort to courteous and safe, she said. Many will pull equipment off the roadway when shoulders permit to let motorists pass safely.

Funkenbusch also recommends parents talk to teen drivers in their households about additional dangers presented during farming season.

Funkenbusch offered the following recommendations for farmers.

* When driving farm machinery on a road or highway, display a red flag measuring high atop a pole so that the machine can be seen even when hidden by a rise or curve in the roadway.

* When rounding a curve, stay to the right-hand side of the road as much as possible. Avoid soft or steep road shoulders, which may cause the tractor to tip.

* Take extra precautions when driving in the early morning or early evening hours, when visibility is often impaired by sun.

* If traffic lines up behind you, pull off or let traffic pass when it is safe to do so.

* Railroad crossing, especially those without gates, present a special hazard. Never take a safe crossing for granted.

* Use hand signals, electronic signals or both to indicate intentions to turn. Avoid wide turns.

* Turn your headlights on, but turn off rear spotlights, which can be mistaken for headlights.

* Avoid the roads during rush hour, in bad weather and at night.

* Use pilot cars if going a considerable distance, and hang a flag out the window of these vehicles or use a slow-moving vehicle emblem.

Russ Quinn can be reached at



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