Have a Chat About Safety: Tips to Talk to Your Neighbor About How to Share the Roadways Safely

Sometimes taking your farm equipment on the road is unavoidable, and many farmers may encounter drivers not familiar with sharing the road with farm equipment. While it may be easy to get flustered, it’s important to remain calm and remember that we’re all just trying to get somewhere as safely as we can.

The key to confidence for you and your neighbors on the roadway can start with a conversation. Pop by to chat or give them a phone call to let them know you’ll be moving equipment on the road, and share some tips to make you both feel safe.

  1. Let them know your busy times of year

While spring and fall might seem like second nature to farmers, neighbors and other members of the community might not recognize those times as planting and harvest.

“We always try to explain what we’re doing and break it down so it’s easy for our non-farming neighbors to understand, especially if we’re stopping traffic so we can get through an intersection or something like that,” he says. says Ralph Lott, II, New York soybean farmer and soy checkoff farmer-leader.

“Here in the Finger Lakes region, we see a lot of visitors during the fall when the leaves start to change and people start to visit the local wineries,” says Lott.

In 2018, the Finger Lakes region saw 5.56 million visitors, staying an average 3.4 days and 2.4 nights according to the Ithaca Times.

Lott says the increased travel and number of motorists on the road don’t go unnoticed, but after decades of farming in the region under his belt, he knows how to handle it.

“We’ve been farming here for 40 years, so we’ve grown with the traffic. Most of our local neighbors know what we’re doing, but tourists sometimes don’t understand.”

  1. Share some passing techniques

It’s not shocking that farm equipment goes slower than the average passenger vehicle, causing potential frustration to motorists stuck behind the equipment.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shown that agriculture, forestry and fishing as an occupational group have the third highest rate of work-related roadway crashes.

“We don’t worry about oncoming traffic so much as the people behind us that are tired of following and try to pass us just about the time we want to pull over to make a wide turn into a narrow farm driveway,” Lott says.

A study by New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health identified 203 agriculture-related vehicle crashes involving 381 vehicles and 482 people. Of those incidents, 91.6% caused property damage, while 36.0% caused injury. The fatality rate for roadway vehicle crashes was nearly five times as great for agriculture versus non-agriculture crashes.

“To the people that are following us, I always tell them to look at the driver in the tractor cab. A lot of times, we’ll point if we need to make a left turn or give a signal for what we’re about to do,” Lott adds.

Find Me Driving, a road education resource, encourages drivers to think “SAM” when they encounter a slow moving vehicle. The site shares safety tips you can use to chat with your fellow drivers:

  • Find the sign. The orange triangular Slow Moving Vehicle sign warns drivers of a vehicle traveling under 25 mph. The sign is exclusively for SMV vehicles and acts as a warning for motorists to to slow down. 
  • Slow down. Rear-end collisions are the number one cause of farm vehicle crashes. When a driver sees a SMV, they should slow down immediately and increase following distance. If a driver is driving 55 mph and comes upon a SMV moving at 25 mph, it only takes 8 seconds to close a gap the length of a football field.
  • Assess your surroundings. SMV operators often pull equipment behind them, which could impact their visibility. It’s important for motorists to remain vigilant of farm driveways, field roads and other places a SMV driver might be ready to turn into.
  • Move with caution. SMVs are typically large and can be difficult to see around. Keep to the basics: Pass only if you can clearly see ahead of both you and the SMV. Check to see if the SMV’s turn signal is on or if the vehicle slows down before passing. Don’t pass in a designated “No Passing Zone” or within 100 feet of any intersection, railroad crossing or tunnel, or if there are curves or hills ahead that may block your view.

“I encourage people to pause and think before passing. Maybe you’ll gain an extra 30 seconds getting to wherever you’re going, but it’s just not worth the risk,” Lott says. “We’ve all got a job to do out here, and getting someplace a few minutes earlier isn’t worth the risk for any of us.”

  1. Explain hand signals

While hand signals might be thought of as a thing of the past, there are farmers who find that they can be helpful to tell your fellow motorists what you’re about to do next — as long as they understand.

“We still use hand signals when we’re driving tractors,” Lott says. “I’ll stick my left arm out to let the traffic know I’m going to make a left turn because if I’m about to cross the road, I really need the people behind me to know.”

A straight-armed gesture to the left indicates a left turn. A right-angled gesture pointing  up indicates a right turn, while pointing down indicates driver is stopping. These are a few easy things to explain and demonstrate to your neighbors, giving them a heads-up on the road.

Taking farm equipment on the road all boils down to confidence for everyone involved — confidence behind the wheel and confidence sharing these tips with your neighbors.

“You need to feel confident when you’re driving down the road and talking to your neighbors or visitors,” says Lott. “Everyone just needs to be thoughtful, and we’ll all get to where we’re going.”

This program is supported by the soy checkoff and multiple organizations in an effort to make rural roads safer for all drivers.

Your Road Safety Checklist: Reminders to Help Keep Safety Top of Mind This Harvest Season

Double=check that reflective materials and SMV signage are displayed and clean

That bright orange triangle on the back of equipment is a familiar sight. It gives farmers a chance to warn the traffic around them that they are moving slowly.

Here’s a real-world scenario that puts in perspective just how quickly moving equipment down the road can become an accident: If a car going 60 miles per hour is driving toward a tractor going 20 miles per hour and is 400 feet away, how long will it take for the car to meet the tractor?

Experts at the Ohio State University Extension Agricultural Safety and Health Program say the answer is only 4.5 seconds.

The slow moving vehicle (SMV) emblem must be displayed on equipment traveling 25 mph or less, mounted base down on the rear of the vehicle. If pulling equipment, both the vehicle and the pulled equipment require an emblem displayed. When trailering equipment and traveling at speeds over 25 mph, the SMV emblem should be removed.

“Delaware is seeing a boom in housing, which puts more vehicles on the road,” says Cory Atkins, checkoff farmer-leader and Delaware soybean farmer. “When we have to move equipment between fields, we try to have a vehicle with flashers following us.”

Window clings for cabs show quick safety checklist to follow before driving your SMV on the road. These are available complimentary from the resources tab.

Be visible

It’s easy for drivers to grow impatient with you driving your combine or tractor down the road — and you with them. Just like the frustration goes both ways, so does the responsibility to make safe driving choices. Below are some tips on what you can do to make it home safely this harvest season.

When you’re ready to get your day started, you pour your first cup of hot, black coffee, pull on your work boots and grab your favorite ragged ball cap — it may be hard to pause and check something else off your to-do list. But testing your lights before you hit the road, especially this time of year as the sun sets earlier, can mean the difference between a safe drive and a dangerous situation. 

“Before we hit the road, we do a pre-check to make sure all our lights are working and slow moving vehicle emblems are clean,” commented Craig Biese, checkoff farmer-leader from Virginia. “Being proactive with safety measures is the first step in coming home safely at night.”

While vehicle codes vary from state to state, the U.S. Department of Transportation adopted the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers Standard 279.14 for agricultural equipment, which requires tractors and self-propelled equipment to follow minimum lighting standards:

  • Two white head lamps mounted at the same height and spaced as wide apart as possible on the front of the vehicle.
  • Two red tail lamps mounted at the same height and spaced as wide apart as possible on the rear of the vehicle.
  • Two amber flashing warning lamps visible from both front and rear, symmetrically placed and as widely spaced as possible.
  • One white or amber lamp on the farthest left side of the vehicle or towed implement.

Also on the checklist before hitting the road are adjusting mirrors for clear views, locking brake pedals together, and checking tires so that they are at maximum approved inflation with wheel fasteners tight.

“We run all the needed lights and flags on our equipment when we hit the road,” says Belinda Burrier, Maryland farmer-leader and soybean grower. “We don’t leave the farm without those things.”

Make sure road conditions are clear             

Who hasn’t headed to work and been delayed by road maintenance closing one lane of traffic? With farm equipment often wider than the average road lane, this can cause major delays and difficulty getting to the field. Before you move farm equipment, be sure to check your route and decide if an alternate path or time of travel would be better to keep you moving.

  • Check the traffic report
  • Avoid road construction and maintenance
  • Know the width of the roadways with fencing and guardrails
  • Check for height clearance of trees and bridges, particularly if transporting equipment on a trailer
  • Drive with a charged cell phone and full fuel tank, especially during inclement weather
  • Check for height clearance of power lines, trees and bridges, particularly if transporting equipment on a trailer
Safety posters and banners are available for your office, shop or classroom. Order your complimentary copies from the resources tab.

Stay alert and don’t drive while tired

Everyone has been there. It’s harvest time. The days are shorter, you need to take one more load to the elevator or get the combine into the shed. But you’re so tired.

Harvest season means juggling many issues during long days and it is easy to be distracted and tired. The Maryland Rural Road Safety Study found distracted driving to be the leading cause of farm equipment collisions.  

In addition, research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shown that going too long without sleep can impair your ability to drive the same way as drinking too much alcohol does. For example, studies by the CDC have shown being awake for at least 18 hours has the same negative effects as having a blood alcohol content of 0.05%. Driving farm equipment or heavy machinery only adds risk.

Long hours involved in a repetitive task, such as driving a combine down a long field, can be very fatiguing, according to the National Ag Safety Database. NASD encourages farmers to rest when they are tired. Stopping for 10 to 15 minutes every two to two-and-a-half hours can help quell the drowsiness.

“Let’s all think about safety first and getting home to our families,” says Burrier.

This safety education program is supported by the soy checkoff and multiple organizations in an effort to make rural roads safer for all drivers.