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Staying in Your Lane

Sharing the road this harvest season

October 2023

Please share the road with agricultural vehicles this fall harvest season. (Photo courtesy of Farm Bureau Federation)

by Christina Amano Dolan, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation

Many drivers are in a hurry, but this fall it’s important to stay alert during farmers’ busy harvest season.

From now until the end of November, various harvesting activities will require farmers to drive their machinery on public roadways as they work to complete their harvests. Because farm equipment is often slow-moving, motorists are advised to use caution — especially when traveling along rural roads.

Shenandoah County farmer Glenn Keller says the roads in his area pose many risks for unprepared motorists. With winding, narrow roads and little visibility, speeding motorists may not see a 13-foot-wide combine or tractor until it’s too late.

Keller, who recently was featured in a Virginia Farm Bureau road-safety video, encourages drivers to pay attention when approaching blind corners and hills.

“They just need to be cautious and expect that when they come around a turn, there may be something on the road,” he advises.

When driving at high speeds, it doesn’t take long for a motorist to catch up to slow-moving farm equipment, which often travels around 25 mph or less. Drivers should slow down as soon as they spot farm machinery on the road, keep a safe distance to allow more visibility, and recognize the warning signs of machinery up ahead.

Virginia law requires vehicles that travel slower than 25 mph to be equipped with rear-mounted triangular slow-moving vehicle emblems when the equipment is being driven on public roads. The reflective signs act as a warning to approaching drivers to slow down.

To minimize their impact on traffic, farmers may use escort vehicles to warn oncoming drivers of approaching equipment. Some farmers try to avoid risk by moving their equipment when local roads aren’t busy, including at night.

State laws require farm equipment to have lights, which must be turned on from sunset to sunrise when traveling on public roadways. Farmers also are encouraged to a affix flashing amber lights and reflectors on their vehicles to improve visibility at all times.

Motorists should avoid risky behavior when attempting to pass farming equipment, which is often wider than a single travel lane. Before passing farm machinery, ensure that the road is wide enough for both vehicles and that there is no oncoming traffic approaching.

Keller encourages motorists to remain alert and help spread awareness of road safety during the busy harvest season — ensuring that everyone makes it to their destinations safely.