Ag safety on rural roads

Follow these road rules to help reduce the risk of motor vehicle collisions.

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The spring planting season is a busy time for farmers and the ag operations that service them. As more and more farmers head into their fields, service drivers are hitting the roads before dawn and coming back long after the sun has set and darkness has blanketed the roads.

Safely navigating large agricultural equipment over rural roads to and from the fields is a challenge for even the best drivers. Nationwide Agribusiness reminds you to consider the following rules on the safe operation of your equipment to help reduce the risk of motor vehicle collisions. 

The Basics

Most states allow leeway regarding the use of implements of husbandry on public roadways. For the most part, regulations for size and type of equipment don’t apply to those that operate agricultural equipment on the road. But drivers need to be aware of bridge and road embargos to help prevent serious injury and damage to roadways and equipment.

The increase in size of agricultural equipment makes it almost certain that portions will extend “left of center” when operated on public roads. Courts have generally upheld the right of equipment operators to use public roads, but that doesn’t give immunity from liability should you have an accident when the size of your equipment is in direct violation.

Accidents are more prevalent at certain times of the day. Operating in the morning presents an increased risk as people head off to work and school. Drivers are usually in a hurry and often lack the patience to follow a slow-moving vehicle. The same is true during afternoons and early evenings as schools let out and people are returning home from work.

When operating in the dark, be sure to:

  • Turn on lights
  • Use reflectors or conspicuity tape
  • Display SMV sign
  • Use an escort vehicle (if you don’t have the proper lighting on the rear of the equipment)

Don’t forget about the trailer. When pulling trailers, operators often rely on the lights from the power unit as their warning system. This can increase the risk of collision because these lights can become obstructed by the roadway curving or the large loads being pulled, such as large hay bales.

Before getting behind the wheel, all drivers must understand the hazards of driving and the importance of sharing the road with others. Never use inexperienced or untrained drivers. Regulations require drivers to be trained on how to operate the specific equipment they are assigned to use and to how to navigate the equipment in the environment they’re operating in.

Let’s look at the following scenarios to learn more:

Left-turn collisions

The left-turn collision is one of the most common accidents involving articulating farm vehicles, such as a tractor pulling a tool bar and nurse tank. When attempting to make a left turn, equipment operators commonly pull to the right in order to make a wide left turn. Motorists behind the equipment may view the movement of the equipment to the right as permission to pass.   

Accidents may be prevented if equipment operators use equipped turn signals or hand or arm signals when operating older equipment. Before committing to the turn, operators should pay close attention to oncoming traffic and check all mirrors or look over their shoulder to ensure motorists are not trying to pass.

Rural bridges

Large farm equipment and old bridges don’t mix. Before crossing a rural bridge, make sure your vehicle weight will not damage the bridge or cause it to collapse.

Because rural bridges are often very narrow, allow oncoming traffic to clear the bridge before starting across. This reduces the total weight on the bridge and gives you more space to maneuver.

Tractors, combines and sprayers have high wheels with tires that have large lugs to facilitate traction. If you pull right to cross the bridge with oncoming traffic, your tires can easily come into contact with the guardrail and subsequently cause your equipment to climb the rail or even tip off the bridge.

Passing cars

When driving a slow-moving vehicle, there will always be other motorists wanting to pass. You should never wave a driver to pass. Ultimately, it’s the passing driver’s responsibility to pass – not yours.

You shouldn’t drive with half of your vehicle on the shoulder either. As the passing vehicle straddles the center line, your equipment may sideswipe it if you have to swerve to avoid an oncoming mail box, road sign or other obstruction.

Always drive with the left side of your vehicle to the centerline, even though the width of your equipment extends onto the shoulder. If a vehicle needs to pass, the driver will have to make that decision based on the law and safe opportunity to do so.

Rear-end collisions

On contoured rural roads, it’s easy for a car traveling at higher speeds to be surprised by a larger, slow-moving vehicle, especially around a sharp bend or after the crest of a hill. It’s difficult for drivers of faster, smaller vehicles to judge the speed and gap distance of a larger piece of equipment.

You can help avoid rear-end collisions by monitoring your mirrors for fast-approaching vehicles and making sure your vehicle’s warning devices, such as SMV signs, are clearly visible. When moving large ag equipment on heavily traveled paved roads, you should utilize an escort vehicle.

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