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Roadside Respect

Share the road with farmers this spring

May 2024

by Alice Kemp, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation

As drivers cruise along bucolic roads this spring, it’s important to stay alert and watch out for slow-moving farm equipment.

Spring planting season is a busy time for farmers, and many of them must transport their equipment on roadways to reach their fields. Much of this heavy machinery, like tractors, planters, sprayers and spreaders, can easily span more than one lane, and even the entire road.

“Most often, farmers aren’t moving their equipment very far,” says Matt Nuckols, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation’s farm safety coordinator. “We encourage drivers to obey traffic laws and patiently wait for farmers to reach their destination or pull over to let them pass.”


Spring planting season can be a dangerous time for both farmers and motorists. Though only 19% of Americans live in rural areas, almost half of all fatal roadway accidents occur in these areas. A 2021 report published in the Open Journal of Safety Science and Technology revealed the percentage of fatal crashes involving farm equipment “can be nearly five times higher than the average for all road crashes.”

Farm equipment drivers have limited visibility and large blind spots, and curving country roads with narrow lanes, hidden turn-offs and overgrowth add to those hazards. A motorist traveling 55 mph will quickly close the distance between a tractor going 20 mph.

In Loudoun County, hay farmer Chris Van Vlack often moves his equipment on local roads during planting season. Like many farmers, he has fields that aren’t contiguous, so driving on roads is necessary. He says while 95% of drivers are courteous and patient, it is the actions of 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 explains. “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.”


Virginia law requires machinery and vehicles that travel slower than 25 mph to display rear-mounted triangular slow-moving vehicle emblems when on public roadways. Many farmers also use flashing amber lights, reflective decals and escort vehicles for extra visibility and to alert approaching drivers.

To lessen their impact on traffic flow, farmers typically avoid moving equipment during peak times like rush hour and when school lets out. When they do encounter vehicles, farmers will move over to let others pass when it’s safe and the roadside is free of obstacles like ditches, mailboxes, posts and trees.

“If you’re willing to wait in line for a table at your favorite restaurant or in line at the grocery store, please provide that same patience for the farmers growing and raising the food you get at those places,” Nuckols urges.

Van Vlack adds that everyone should be mindful of their surroundings, avoid distractions like cellphones, and use caution — especially if they see crop fields and pastures.

“If you see farm things, expect farm equipment,” he says.