Road safety during harvest

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by Sally Colby

At harvest time, equipment operators have a responsibility to ensure safety for themselves and others who are using the roads. There’s a good chance many motorists who encounter tractors, trucks and harvest equipment don’t understand what it’s like behind the wheel of a tractor or other farm vehicle. Those farming in or passing through heavily populated areas should be aware that some motorists may not have driven around farm equipment and are unsure what to do.

Any trip on a public roadway, no matter what distance or road type, should begin with a complete check of the tractor, truck or self-propelled equipment. Functional lights are critical, even during the day, and can save lives. The rule for lighting and marking on agricultural equipment as outlined on the Federal Register states that “two head lamps, two red tail lamps and at least two flashing amber warning lights must be mounted at the same height and spaced laterally as wide as possible.” For tractors and/or implements that are 12 feet wide or wider, at least two flashing amber warning lights must be visible from both front and rear.

Any equipment (implement) that extends more than four feet beyond to the left or right of the machine hauling it should have at least one strip of yellow retroreflective material that’s visible from the front, as well as at least one strip of red retroreflective material visible from the rear. The reflective material is applied at the most extreme projection of the equipment to ensure visibility to oncoming or following vehicles.

Equipment that measures more than 12 feet wide must also have at least two strips of yellow reflective material visible to the front, and at least two strips of red reflective material visible to the rear of the machine.

Make sure a clean, unblemished SMV emblem is securely mounted at the proper height on all equipment. If you are unsure whether it’s visible to motorists, drive a car behind the equipment to get a more accurate view of what motorists see. If equipment extends more than 16.4 feet to the rear of the propelling vehicle (tractor), it must be equipped with at least one SMV emblem and have yellow retroreflective material visible from the left and right sides.

Drivers of farm equipment should check mirrors prior to road travel, ensuring they are securely fastened, clean and adjusted for the driver’s clear view. Lights and flashers should be clean and in good working condition. When working at dusk, watch for motorists who have failed to turn headlights on.

Although it’s difficult to add red flashing lights to the rear of towed equipment, such as grain wagons, such lights can help motorists better estimate how close they are to you. Remember that a motorist behind a large tractor may assume you can see them simply because you, as the tractor or large equipment driver, are higher above the road surface.

It may seem obvious that your tractor or combine appears large to motorists, but it’s difficult for motorists to judge the speed of farm equipment. Motorists often fail to realize tractors and other farm equipment don’t have the maneuverability of a car or truck, and that the tractor driver can’t quickly or safely move out of the way.

Motorists are supposed to drive with caution around large farm equipment, slow down and allow at least 50 feet between their vehicle and the farm vehicle. However, hilly terrain, curves and obstacles may cause motorists to rapidly approach farm equipment. If they’re following too closely, there’s a chance the farm equipment driver will fail to see them. Keep a close eye on the rearview mirror and be aware of approaching motorists.

Keep extra riders, especially children, out of the tractor cab and out of any self-propelled equipment whether it’s on the farm or on a roadway. Whenever possible, limit travel on heavily traveled roadways during the hours school buses are on the road and also at night. Consider using a “follow vehicle” if you must move large equipment at night.

Positioning a tractor and implement toward the right to make a left-hand turn may give auto drivers the idea the tractor driver is moving over to allow them to pass. Anyone driving farm equipment should be familiar with hand signals and use all appropriate turn signals and watch traffic in all directions carefully prior to making any turns. However, many motorists are unfamiliar with hand signals, so watch for those attempting to pass when you’re positioned to make a left-hand turn.

Prior to taking harvest equipment on the road, check all routes to be sure equipment will easily clear trees and power lines, and that any bridges are wide enough for the widest equipment. Be aware of any road construction, including closures, that may force a detour. Summer storms may have resulted in deeper-than-usual ditches or new washed-out areas adjacent to travel paths, so it’s worth visiting fields ahead of time to look for such hazards.

Harvest season is the culmination of a lot of time and significant financial investment – be sure it’s as safe as it can be for your family, employees and others on the road.

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