Sharing Rural Roads with Farm Equipment Requires Patience and Caution

With planting season underway, expect to encounter slow moving equipment

April 29, 2021, 9:39 am | Steven A. Freeman

AMES, Iowa – Favorable weather in the forecast has farm equipment and motorists back on Iowa’s roadways, and with that combination comes the need for patience and caution.

“Every year there are thousands of collisions between motor vehicles and farm machinery on our rural roads,” said Steven Freeman, professor in agricultural and biosystems engineering at Iowa State University.

Farm equipment on the road.The most common incidents occur when an approaching motorist hits a farm vehicle from behind or when a passing motorist hits a farm vehicle that is attempting to make a wide left turn, according to Freeman, who authored a handy guide called “Sharing Rural Roads.”

Additional information is also available in the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach publication “Safely Sharing the Road with Farm Vehicles.”

Freeman provides tips for both rural motorists and also for farmers. He said it takes a combined effort to keep Iowa’s roadways safe. 

His advice for everyone is to remember that they share the roadway with others, to always drive defensively, and also make sure all vehicles and equipment are properly marked, and that operator intentions are clearly communicated.

“It requires everyone if we are going to make the roads safer,” he said. “Motorists need to slow down and be patient, and farmers need to make sure their equipment is marked and their intentions are recognized.”

Freeman said motorists need to remember that farm equipment is usually slow moving – especially when it is marked with a Slow Moving Vehicle sign. Farmers who veer to the right of a roadway may actually be preparing to make a left-hand turn. If possible, farmers and motorists should try to make eye contact when turning or preparing to pass, and both should be cautious about making any assumptions.

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.

Shareable photo by ISU Extension and Outreach: Planter on the road.

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