October 2021

Be Alert, Slow Down

Know how to share the roadways with farm equipment

The arrival of fall signals more than just changing leaves and cooler weather. It ushers in busier roadways, as Virginia farmers harvest their fall crops of corn, cotton, peanuts and soybeans. Some may also be planting winter wheat.

Agricultural vehicles like choppers, combines and tractors outfitted with additional harvesting equipment, are common fixtures on rural roads during fall. As harvest activities increase, so does the need to move heavy equipment from one field to another.

The size of this equipment, which often occupies multiple lanes and moves at slow speeds, presents certain hazards for farmers and nearby motorists.

To address these hazards, the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Farm Safety Advisory Committee is continuing to educate drivers on how to share the road properly with farming equipment.

PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE

Driving safely amid farming equipment starts with patience, says Jeremy Moyer, whose family operates multigenerational Oakmulgee Dairy Farm in Amelia County. He serves on the VFBF safety committee and as president of Amelia County Farm Bureau.

“We’re just trying to run our business and get home safe at the end of the day like everyone else,” he says. “We want to get from field to field as quickly as possible, but we need to err on the side of safety, rather than rushing and causing an accident. We just ask drivers to be patient.”

Moyer explained that drivers of passenger vehicles don’t always understand how slowly farming equipment moves, which increases the risk of speed-related collisions. Passenger vehicles traveling 55 mph can close 300 feet on a slow-moving vehicle traveling around 15 mph in just five seconds, so motorists need to exercise extra caution.

Virginia law requires that all vehicles that typically travel slower than 25 mph display a triangular, slow-moving vehicle emblem on the rear of the vehicle when using public roads. The emblems warn drivers to begin slowing down as soon as they see the SMV sign.Many farmers also use flashing amber lights, reflective decals and escort vehicles to alert approaching drivers to the farm equipment’s presence.

When approaching a slow-moving farm vehicle from behind, drivers should never pass unless they’re lawfully allowed to do so. Double yellow lines usually indicate a blind curve ahead or a hill that obstructs the view of the road.

‘BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT’

Dana Fisher, chairman of the VFBF Farm Safety Advisory Committee, notes farmers do their best to minimize their impact on traffic by traveling when local roads aren’t busy. However, weather often dictates when farmers can harvest their crops, so some must venture out during peak travel hours.

“Give farmers the benefit of the doubt,” Fisher advises. “They don’t want be holding up traffic any more than they have to. Most of them know their routes well, and if there’s a place for them to pull off safely to get out of the way, they’re going to do so.”

Paying close attention to the road, and allowing extra time to react to slow-moving vehicles that could be present, “is a huge part of driving safely” on rural roads, he says.

“While it may take an extra minute or two to get where you’re going because you have to slow down or wait for that piece of equipment to pull off, those couple minutes allow everyone to get home safely,” Fisher explains. “A little patience and grace to let our farmers do what they need to get done goes a long way.”

Patience is essential in driving amid farm equipment.