The agricultural industry is one of the largest employers in North Carolina. And in order for our farmers to do their job, they must move their equipment from field to field on public roads, on which they are legally entitled to travel. In North Carolina, 51 percent of all crashes involving farm equipment results in an injury or death.
As the 2014 planting season gears up in Lee County, you are sure to find yourself sharing the road with large, slow-moving farm equipment. During the harvesting and planting seasons, farmers are often on the road early in the mornings and late into the evenings.
Since most farm equipment moves less than 25 miles per hour, always use caution when sharing the road. As Lee County continues to grow, be aware that you may also come upon slow-moving agricultural equipment in our more suburban areas.
Unlike automobiles, agricultural equipment is not designed for high speeds. High speeds on the road or in the field can make farm equipment unstable and can lead to an overturn, especially in sharp turns or on rough ground. When driving too fast, the operator has less time to react to events and rough ground may cause the operator to be thrown from the machine.
Under North Carolina law, farm tractors are required to have one front white light as well as a rear red light that is visible for up to 500 feet. Two red reflectors that are at least four inches in diameter can replace the rear red light. You will also notice an SMV (slow-moving vehicle) sign on the rear end of most farm equipment seen moving up and down the roads. The current SMV sign is a solid orange triangle during the day but appears to be a hollow red triangle at night. Currently in North Carolina the SMV sign is not required to be on every piece of farm equipment although it is encouraged.
Caution should be taken when sharing the road with farm equipment. Even with the attachments pulled tight to the body of a tractor, many are over 15 feet wide and moving off to a narrow shoulder does not give much space for a car to pass. Most of the crashes that involve farm equipment occur on a clear day, during daylight hours, and/or on a dry surface that is paved. Typical crashes with farm equipment include sideswipes and angle crashes. These types of crashes occur while farm equipment is turning left and a motorist tries to pass. In some cases, a farmer uses a left hand signal, and drivers mistake this as a sign for them to pass. Many farmers will use hand signals to warn drivers when they are turning or stopping.
When sharing the road with farm equipment, obey the rules of the road. It is illegal and very dangerous to pass farm equipment in a no passing zone. Farm equipment may be wider than what is visible from behind and may require ample space in both lanes. It may also be difficult to see traffic approaching in the opposite direction.
The key to safety when sharing the road with farm equipment is to be patient. If farm equipment is causing a delay in traffic, the farmer will move off the road at the nearest practical location and allow the traffic to pass. Due to the high cost of the equipment, which may be well over $125,000 and repairs to damage tires may run well over $1,000 each, the farmer is looking for the safest location to pull over.
Motorists can avoid other potentially dangerous encounters with slow-moving vehicles by following these driving tips:
• Recognize and respect the slow-moving vehicle and when you see one, slow down as if you are approaching a stoplight.
• Watch for hand signals. Don’t assume that a slow-moving vehicle pulling to the right side of the road is going to turn right or is going to let you pass. Make sure the driver sees you before you try to pass.
• Keep your distance and be sure to slow down when you see a slow-moving vehicle’s flashing turn signal. Slow-moving equipment can be like a brick wall if a fast-moving car collides with it on the highway.
• Be patient. It’s not easy for the farmer to move aside to let you pass, especially when road shoulders are questionable.
• Always make sure the road ahead and behind is clear before you pass. Don’t depend on the driver to wave you around.
• And remember, farm equipment cannot stop or slow down as quickly as an automobile.
This spring, enjoy your ride around Lee County, watch out for our farmers as they move their equipment from field to field and remember to always approach farm equipment with care.
Kim Tungate is Agriculture Agent – Field Crops and Livestock for N.C. Cooperative Extension in Lee County.