This spring, motorists and farm vehicles will be sharing the road together, cautions Cheryl Skjolaas, University of Wisconsin-Extension agricultural safety specialist. Drivers need to remember that farm equipment is not very maneuverable.
It's legal to drive farm machinery on public roads and it's often the only way farmers can get from field to field. The combination of slow traveling farm equipment and faster motor vehicles means the time before the two meet can be seconds. Add in any driver distraction – talking on cell phone, being tired, speeding-and stopping without a crash is almost impossible.
"It's important to be alert and remember that these farm vehicles don't behave like cars and trucks when it comes to speed, turning or braking," Skjolaas says.
She offers the following tips and reminders for motorists driving on rural roads:
-- Farm machinery that goes less than 25 miles per hour should display an orange "slow moving vehicle" or SMV emblem on the back. Alternatively, the equipment may have an amber strobe light.
-- New high-speed tractors can travel up to 40 mph. Wisconsin has no special sign or symbol to identify these high speed tractors though many operators use amber strobe lights on these tractors.
-- A road sign to watch for is a yellow and black warning sign with the symbol of a farmer driving a tractor. The signs are within 500 feet of the driveway to alert motorist of an obstructed farm or field drive with an obstructive view such as on a hill or around a curve.
-- The farm vehicle operator may not be able to see around the equipment, so don't assume that the operator knows you are approaching. Similar to semi-trucks many use large extended mirrors. When a driver follows too closely, the vehicle isn't visible to the farm equipment operator. Keep a distance back.
-- A majority of farm equipment and motor vehicle crashes occur when the farm equipment operator slows down to turn left and the motorist moves to pass. When you pass farm machinery, make sure the driver is not about to turn left. Before you decide to pass, look for driveways into farms or fields where the farm vehicle operator could be turning.
-- Farm equipment operators are not required to drive on the road shoulders. If safe, the operator may pull off to allow traffic to pass. However, in springtime the shoulders of the roads are too soft for the weight of loads.
-- Wide equipment may extend into the oncoming traffic lane. Also, make sure the road is wide enough and watch for roadside obstacles such as mailboxes that might cause the equipment operator to drift to the left.
-- Farm machinery may not have brake lights or turn signals. At night, lighting and marking requirements for farm equipment do apply.
-- Farm machinery crossing the road moves slowly and may be pulling equipment that will take longer to clear the road. Don't try to pass on the left as the equipment may swing out differently than you expect.
In addition, make sure that you have enough time and distance to pass safely. It is illegal to pass farm equipment in no passing zones.
Source: University of Wisconsin Extension News Office