A warning about spring roads
Published 2:11 pm Friday, March 24, 2023
Farmers are busy planting their crops, and that means motorists will likely encounter slow-moving farm equipment on roadways.
Spring planting season can be a dangerous time for farmers and motorists traveling on rural roads. Though only 19% of people in the U.S. live in rural areas, almost half of fatal roadway accidents occur in these areas. Additionally, a 2021 report published in the Open Journal of Safety Science and Technology stated that the percentage of fatal crashes involving farm equipment “can be nearly five times higher” than the average for all road crashes.
“We had a fatality last year in Wythe County when a farmer was hit,” said Jonathan Grimes, Wythe County Farm Bureau president and member of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Farm Safety Advisory Committee. “He was on his tractor moving from one field to another when he was hit and killed.”
Grimes explained that motorists driving fast can quickly close the distance between themselves and slow-moving farm equipment. Farmers often have limited visibility when operating equipment, and some of the machinery can be much larger than drivers expect, taking up more than one lane or an entire narrow rural road.
Virginia law requires operators of vehicles that travel slower than 25 mph to rear-mount triangular slow-moving vehicle signs when equipment is being driven on public roadways. Many farmers also use flashing amber lights and reflective decals to alert approaching drivers.
Farmers will pull over when it’s safe, Grimes said. “Just take your time, slow down and follow state laws. I’ve seen people pass farm equipment on the double yellow line when they should wait until the dotted line to pass legally.”
In Loudoun County, hay and grain farmer Chris Van Vlack echoed Grimes’ concerns. Like many producers, his farm’s properties are not contiguous, and he often takes equipment on roads during planting and harvest seasons. He said while 95% of drivers are courteous and patient, it’s the other 5% that can be hair-raising, especially if they don’t understand when it’s safe to pass.
“I’ll signal that I’m turning left at the next intersection,” he explained. “I’ll start to turn, and they’ll get upset and try to pass me at the same time. That’s been the scary part.”
He added that drivers should be mindful of their surroundings, especially if they see crop fields and pastures.
“If you see farm things, expect farm equipment,” he noted.
For farmers getting ready to travel on roadways, Grimes advised that they also be patient with drivers and “make sure you have your SMV emblems on all your equipment, and that your hazard and warning lights are all working.”