Sharing the road with farm equipment

Autumn is approaching in Michigan and Wisconsin.

That means crisp apples, corn mazes, pumpkin patches and more.

It also means motorists will be sharing the road with farm equipment as producers work to harvest their crops.

The Michigan Farm Bureau and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation remind motorists to use caution around farm vehicles and to give them the space they need stop, make turns, and operate safely.

“Motorists have to be alert at all times and allow enough room and time to slow down,” said Craig Anderson, manager of Michigan Farm Bureau’s Agricultural Labor and Safety Services Department.

“Farmers will pull off the road to allow motorists to pass when it’s safe for them to do so, but it’s important to be patient. Don’t expect the farmer to move aside immediately just so you can pass,” Anderson said in a statement.

“Even if you have to slow down to 20 mph and follow a tractor for one mile, it only takes about three minutes, which is about the same as waiting for a stoplight.”

Wisconsin is one of the nation’s leading agriculture states, with more than 34 million acres of land in farms and more than $5 billion in farm product sales per year.

Everybody knows that Wisconsin is America’s Dairyland. Farm products equal farms. Farms equal farm equipment.

Traffic statistics show that accidents involving farm equipment most often occur in the late afternoon, involve sideswipe or angle collisions, and are often preceded by motorists trying to pass as farmers make left turns.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation says there were nearly 1,400 crashes involving farm machinery from 2005 to 2012. Twenty-five were fatal collisions and 708 resulted in injuries.

According to the Michigan Farm Bureau, one of the biggest hazards is motorists not allowing enough time to brake when approaching a slow-moving farm vehicle.

A car going 55 mph can take 300 feet of braking distance-that’s a football field-to avoid rear-ending farm equipment traveling 15 mph. That means only about five seconds to close the gap.

The slow-moving vehicle (SMV) emblem, a bright orange triangle framed in red, is meant to warn motorists that a vehicle traveling at slower than normal speeds is ahead and they should approach it with caution.

A slow-moving vehicle emblem is used on vehicles that have a maximum potential speed of 25 mph on the highway or an implement of husbandry, and also for farm tractors or special mobile equipment.

All new farm equipment manufactured in the United States after Jan. 1, 2007 comes standard with special safety features, including flashing amber lights.

However, the majority of farm equipment used in Michigan and Wisconsin was manufactured prior to that date.

Until the older equipment is retired and replaced with newer models, motorists and farmers share the burden of making sure that the slow-moving vehicle sign retains its safety purpose.

Misuse of slow-moving vehicle emblems, often as driveway markers, dilutes the symbol’s effectiveness and is a violation of the state motor vehicle code. Unlike most traffic markers, slow-moving vehicle emblems are widely available for purchase, but their only legal use is on the back of a vehicle with a maximum designed speed of 25 mph.

Traffic safety experts offer motorists, farmers, and others the following tips for sharing the road:

– Recognize slow moving vehicles on the road. They come in a large variety of shapes and sizes. A good road safety rule is to look for an orange triangle emblem on the back of any vehicle you don’t recognize. Use caution when you see the triangle, which indicates a slow moving vehicle.

– In Michigan, normal traffic laws apply. Don’t pass in no-passing zones or within 100 feet of intersections, railroad crossings or bridges.

– In Wisconsin, drivers may pass a slow-moving vehicle in a no passing zone if the slow moving vehicle is traveling at less than one-half of the posted speed limit and the passing can be completed safely

– Farm equipment makes wide turns; watch for turn signals and hand motions.

– Yield to wide, approaching vehicles. Farm equipment is often wider than a normal traffic lane. Approaching motorists should pull off in a safe location to allow it to pass.

– Don’t assume the farmer knows you’re there. Most are aware of the traffic around them, but their equipment is much louder than conventional vehicles.

– Slow down in rural areas. Motorists traveling on two-lane rural roads and county roads must anticipate farm machinery and be prepared to slow down or stop.

– Be extra cautious on wet pavement, or when mud and debris from tractor tires is deposited on roadways, creating slippery conditions. On wet roads, stopping distances can increase as much as five times.

– Farmers are reminded that spilling loads of waste or foreign matter on the roadway could result in a traffic citation. Farm equipment on the roadway should be well marked and lighted.

Farmers can also help traffic safety if they:

– Comply with all applicable laws. All farm equipment must bear a slow-moving vehicle emblem. Flashing lights or rotating beacons do not fulfill slow-moving vehicle emblem requirements.

– Replace faded slow-moving vehicle emblems and/or reflective material on outboard edges of implements. Add extra reflective material such as truck tape or implement marking kits.

– Clean dirt from lights and reflectors to help ensure maximum visibility.

– Safety chains are required on all trailers, drawn vehicles and equipment.

– Avoid heavy traffic times and bad weather whenever possible.