Sharing the Road with Farm Equipment
Reminders for Motorists:
With the onset of summer comes an increase of farm activity as local producers are busy tending their fields and harvesting crops. Finding suitable acreage in parcels large enough to farm commercially, for a living, is a limitation in North Florida. In other words, farmers must do a great deal of moving around with their machinery and hauling equipment to locations where they can farm. Sometimes this means driving large equipment on major highways into neighboring counties and often through parts of town. The same goes for moving livestock from one pasture site to another so cattle can have fresh new grass to forage on. In other parts of the country in many rural, agriculturally driven areas, farmers are not forced to travel as much on busy highways and in developed areas. Therefore, it is critical that motorists have an increased awareness of farm equipment showing up on our roadways during growing seasons. According to Florida law, Agricultural Equipment Operators have a legal right to share the road with general motorists.
According to the National Safety Council, about one-third of tractor related deaths occur on public roads. Many people may assume this statistic is associated with bad weather or hazardous conditions, but studies have shown that nearly 80 percent of tractor-vehicle collisions occur in daylight and on straight, dry roads.
The most common types of road accidents are left-hand turn and rear-end collisions.
One very common cause of an accident is the left-turn collision. Never assume that farm equipment is turning right or pulling off the road for you if they slow down and pull to the right. Due to the size of today’s farm equipment, the operator must execute very wide left-hand turns. In this case, they may be swinging very wide to the right to make a clean left-hand turn. Often times, motorists use this as an opportunity to speed around the machinery, colliding with the equipment as it finishes its intended turn. Making a hasty decision when following an agricultural operator can lead to a fatal consequence. Many times, the rear-end collision may happen by motorists misjudging the speed when approaching a slow-moving vehicle. In this case, there are only a few seconds to react and slow down. Always keep your eyes on the road and do not be distracted by an electronic device.
Safety Tips for Motorists
- Slow down when you see farm equipment ahead. Most farm equipment is only designed to travel at speeds of up to 15-25 mph.
- Watch for hand signals. The large size of farm equipment indicates a necessity for extra space when making very wide turns. Be alert to hand motions that signal the direction of the turn.
- Watch for the triangular Slow-Moving-Vehicle (SMV) sign. These signs are only legally allowed on vehicles traveling less than 25 mph. They will provide an immediate warning to those who are focusing on the road ahead.
- Watch for amber flashing lights. Also look for reflective tape that may mark the edges of farm equipment.
- Do not speed past farm equipment. Equipment can have parts projecting outward that are difficult to spot at first glance. Also, the turbulence caused by a fast speeding vehicle could cause the machinery to sway and become unstable.
- Do not pull out in front of a slow-moving vehicle, then slow down suddenly. Tractors and machinery do not have the same ability to maneuver the road as smaller cars and trucks. It also takes the equipment much longer to come to a stop than a regular sized motor vehicle.
- Do not expect equipment to run partly on the shoulders of the road. Driving with one set of wheels on the road and another in the road shoulder, can substantially increase chance of an overturn. Having to avoid obstacles on the roadside and snatching back over abruptly can easily cause an overturn for the equipment operator.
- Always use caution and patience! Never take unnecessary risks.
Safety Tips for Equipment Operators
- Perform a full inspection of equipment before heading out. Ensure that your brakes, lights, signals, and steering is all working.
- Check to make sure the SMV sign is clean and visible from a distance.
- Make sure all safety lights are clean and working before entering the highway.
- Provide a follow vehicle, with hazard lights if possible. Drivers often see and respond to this additional support on the road.
- Train your equipment operators on safety and proper machine operation. Additionally, help them understand what to do in various scenarios they might encounter on the highway.
- Know your route. Become familiar with potential obstacles you might encounter on your route and develop a plan beforehand. Learn of any stop lights, low trees, sharp curves, potholes, low and soft roadside shoulders, steep hills, etc.
- Do not obstruct the flow of traffic. Pull over and allow vehicles to pass. This applies when there is a line of vehicles behind you and when it is safe to pull over.
The 2018 Florida Statutes. Title XXIII, Motor Vehicles. Chapter 316, State Uniform Traffic Control. http://www.leg.state.fl.us/Statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&URL=0300-0399/0316/Sections/0316.2295.html
The National Ag Safety Database. “Safer Tractor Operations for Florida’s Privately Owned and Operated Farms and Ranches”. http://nasdonline.org/56/d001630/farm-machinery-safety-on-public-roads.html
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