Farm Safety Expert Reminds Iowans to Share the Roadways

Roadway safety advice for farmers and non-farm motorists

April 18, 2023, 10:15 am | Steven A. Freeman

Steve Freeman is a professor and safety research expert at Iowa State University, where he teaches classes related to occupational safety, including farm and rural safety. He grew up on a diversified farm/ranch in eastern Colorado. He holds a Ph.D. in agricultural engineering from Purdue University and has written numerous research articles about occupational safety.

Q: You’ve been an expert in farm and rural safety for more than 30 years. What motivates you to work in this area?

Steve Freeman.A: Growing up, I knew a lot of neighbors who had been injured while working on a farm. It was considered part of the price of farming and every time the old farmers gathered, the conversation often included stories of their injuries or of injuries to others. But when children were injured or killed, it was often ignored – just too painful to talk about and revisit. I knew there had to be a better way. Every farm injury is preventable. We have made progress, but still have work to do.

Q: Farm equipment and motor vehicles have improved significantly in terms of better lighting, signage and visibility, yet we still continue to have incidents and injuries. How important is this technology and what must we do to get the most from it?

A: First, we need to make sure that we maintain the technology and ensure that the technology is working correctly. Second, we need to make sure that we don’t over rely on the technology. We still need to ensure that our youth and workers are properly trained to complete all farm tasks safely. Technology has made farming easier and safer, but safety is still a matter of our behavior and actions.

Q: What is the single biggest thing that farmers and non-farm motorists should do to safely share the roadways?

A: Everyone needs to be patient and accept that we share our rural roadways. Farmers need to ensure that their equipment is visible and they need to be cautious when moving equipment on roads. Motorists need be aware of the possibility of farm equipment and to slow down. The difference in speed between cars and farm equipment often catches drivers by surprise. Drivers should not try to pass farm equipment unless they are sure the road is clear and the farmer is not planning on turning off the road to the left. Finally, farmers should not try to pull off the side of the road to let vehicles pass unless they know the side of the road is stable and safe. Planter on rural roadway.

Q: We remind people about roadway safety with farm machinery every year. Why is this necessary?

A: While farm equipment is a common sight on rural roads during specific times of the year (for example, planting season and harvest season), it is still relatively rare throughout the year. We all become complacent and forget about hazards that we don’t deal with every day. These yearly reminders create awareness and remind everyone that we need to share the roads and work together, to keep our rural roads safe.

Freeman offers the following advice for both farmers and rural motorists.

Tips for the rural driver

  • Be prepared for farm vehicles. Farm vehicles travel significantly slower than automobiles. You may only have a few seconds to react and slow down before overtaking a farm vehicle. Be prepared to slow down and follow; you may not have room to pass.
  • Slow down and keep your distance. Don’t assume that the farmer can pull over and let you pass. Shoulder conditions may make it unsafe for the farmer to pull heavy equipment to the side of the road.
  • Be sure of the farmer’s intentions before passing. Don’t assume that a farm vehicle is turning right or pulling over to let you pass if it pulls to the right side of the road. A farmer may have to swing right in order to make a left turn. Wait until you know what the farmer is planning to do.
  • Be patient and enjoy the scenery if you find yourself following a farm vehicle. Even if you have to follow a farm vehicle for a couple of miles, it will only take a few minutes of your time.
  • Be especially alert in the evenings; farmers are returning from the fields and dusk makes farm vehicles more difficult to see.

Tips for the farmer

  • Only allow licensed, or appropriately trained, operators to take farm machinery onto the road. Youth who are able to operate machinery in the field may not be able to deal safely with traffic and other road hazards.
  • Make sure farm machinery is equipped with the lighting and marking safety devices recommended by the American Society of Agricultural Engineers and required by state and local laws. Be sure to remind all operators to use the appropriate hazard lights and turn signals when traveling on roads.
  • Minimize total vehicle width and secure equipment in the transport position before entering roadways.
  • Watch for approaching traffic and vehicles trying to pass. If possible, pull over and let traffic pass safely, but be alert for roadside hazards.
  • Obey all traffic laws and signs.
  • Signal intentions to motorists and avoid sudden or unexpected maneuvers.
  • Exercise additional care when entering roadways, approaching unsigned or “blind” intersections, crossing narrow bridges, going around sharp corners or going over hills.
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