Last week, Aaron mowed down the remnants of our 2015 garden. The dry cornstalks and dead bean bushes had been driving him crazy for weeks and he was thrilled to finally find time to bushhog them down.
Our tractor is housed in a barn about three miles away from our home, so I dropped Aaron off and he drove the tractor and bushhog home.
The majority of the trip is on two-lane back roads but for the first mile he has to drive on a four-lane highway that just happens to be one of the busiest in our county. Since it was a Sunday afternoon, traffic was heavy.
Seeing cars and semi-trucks fly past my husband on our small tractor makes me very nervous. Now that Lorelei’s carseat is forward facing, she could see it too. As we followed behind him in my SUV with hazard lights on (to help alert the other drivers of the slow moving tractor) she yelled “Hey car, slow down that’s my Daddy!”
I’m thankful that we only have to make that trip with the tractor a few times a year. For many of my farming friends, however, moving tractors on busy roads is a daily occurrence.
According to the The National Safety Council about one-third of fatal tractor accidents occur on public roads.
As my crop farming friends begin harvesting this fall, I thought this would be a good time to share some friendly reminders of what you should do when you meet a tractor on the road.
The first thing you should do when you see a tractor ahead of you is slow down.
Many tractors’ and combines’ top speeds are 20-25 mph. On a highway with a speed limit of 55 mph, this is much slower than you’re probably traveling so make sure to give yourself plenty of time to slow down.
Speed is far too often a factor in roadway accidents. By slowing down, you give yourself time to assess the situation and make safe choices.
Don’t get too close.
Riding 5 feet behind the tractor won’t make it go any faster, I promise, but it seems that many people don’t understand this concept.
You know what happens when you follow too closely behind a tractor? The driver is now focusing on you.
So in addition to operating their machinery (which is much more complicated than driving a car) and paying attention to oncoming traffic, they are now having to keep an eye on you. Instead of focusing on what they should be doing, they’re hoping you don’t get too close and rear end them or the planter, sprayer, grain cart, etc… they are pulling behind them.
You are distracting the tractor driver, so his/her ability to make safe driving decisions is being compromised. Plus, in the event of an accident, your vehicle is too close to the tractor to safely react in time.
Keep a safe distance and keep everyone safe.
NEVER cut in between an escort vehicle and the machinery.
Escort vehicles are normal cars/trucks that drive with their hazard lights on and sometimes flags to alert other motorists to the slow moving machinery in front of them.
They keep a safe distance from the machinery, therefore if you’re behind the escort, YOU are a safe distance behind the machinery.
Escort vehicles also help machinery make safe turns. Since tractors, combines, etc… aren’t able to turn as sharply as a car, an escort will often prevent traffic from passing in the other lane to ensure the machinery can make a wide turn safely.
Don’t pass until it is safe.
Farmers are well aware that being stuck behind a tractor is not fun. As the line of cars backs up behind a tractor, the driver is scanning what’s ahead, looking for a safe place to pull over and let traffic pass.
Sometimes the farmer or escort vehicle can see that there is no traffic coming in the oncoming lanes and will wave you around to pass.
When you do pass farm machinery, make sure you do so cautiously. Its not hard to pass a tractor that’s only going 25 mph. There is no reason that you should hit 70 mph while passing them.
NEVER pass machinery when it is turning!
Farm machinery has to make wide turns. Passing while they’re turning is incredibly dangerous.
Watch for signs of turning like blinkers on the tractor and hand signals from the tractor driver.
Keep in mind that sometimes farm machinery will turn off of the road and directly into a field. Just because you don’t see a driveway or road doesn’t mean that the blinker or hand signal is an error.
This one is likely the most important of all.
Farmers hate having to transport machinery on the road. Its a dangerous and nerve wracking part of their jobs but combines and tractors must be moved from one field to the next.
Like it or not, its a reality.
Driving that tractor is someone’s dad, mom, son or daughter. They’re your neighbors – your child’s soccer coach, the family a few pews ahead of you in church on Sunday.
They’re trying to do their job and get there safely, just like you. A little patience and courtesy can go a long way in keeping us all safe.