Preventing Public Road Accidents

Transporting agricultural machinery from one field to the next by way of public roads is a necessity for many in agriculture. Many motorists are unfamiliar with slow moving agricultural machinery. The potential for accidents is high. Equipment operators must be aware of the hazard their use of public roads causes and take necessary precautions.

Causes of Accidents on Public Roads

  • Difference in Speed – Most farm machinery is transported at speeds of 25 mph or slower while other vehicles often are traveling at much faster speeds, causing motorists to miscalculate how fast they are approaching farm machinery.
  • Farm Size and Location – Long distances between land farmed increases the need to transport farm machinery on public roads.
  • Size of the Machinery – Today’s large equipment sometimes overlaps into other lanes.
  • Poor Visibility – Corners, hills, and other blind spots reduce a motorist’s ability to see farm equipment. Dirty windshields on equipment reduces operator visibility.
  • Unskilled Operators – Today’s large and complicated equipment require skillful operators.
  • Motorists Unfamiliar with Slow-Moving Vehicle (SMV) Signs – Motorists may not slow         down when approaching a slow-moving farm machine from the rear.
  • Improper Transport Techniques – Failure to securely tie down equipment or produce can cause movement or loss of the load.
  • Outdated Equipment – Some older equipment may only have minimal lighting or markings or the lights may not be working.
  • Towing Equipment Too Fast – The equipment may start to sway, causing the operator to lose control.
  • Poor Road Conditions – Potholes, ditches, rough roads, and wash-outs can cause the operator to lose control.
  • Extra Riders – Dogs and other animals falling out of transport vehicles create hazards to motorists.
  • Poor Maintenance of Machinery – Tractors with no brakes or bald tires are extremely hazardous.
  • Time of the Year – Heavy seasonal use during planting, haying, and harvesting increases the potential for an accident.

Prevention of Road Accidents

  1. Train equipment operators about proper machinery operation and use. The operators should be licensed drivers. The operators must obey the same laws as motor vehicles.
  2. Maintain equipment properly.
  3. Each tractor and piece of equipment must have the proper lighting to be transported or driven on public roads. The American Society of Agricultural Engineers recommends:
    1. Two white headlights on front.
    2. Two flashing amber lights in both front and rear. These can be used as signal lights as well.
    3. At least one red taillight on rear left.
    4. Two red reflectors that are visible from the rear.
  4. If a public road crosses your farm yard, install warning signs and/or flashing amber lights at points down the road that can be activated from the house, machine shed, or barn to warn motorists that farm equipment is crossing the road ahead.
  5. Clean off windshields and lights.
  6. Use slow-moving-vehicle (SMV) signs.
  7. Before entering the roadway, stop and look both directions. Make sure you have enough time to cross the road or enter the road if traffic is coming.
  8. Be aware of the road conditions. Know where the hazards exist before you start.
  9. Slow down when leaving the road. Turning too fast can whip the towed equipment into the path of oncoming traffic or cause a side overturn.
  10. Do not allow extra riders at any time for any reason.
  11. Go down a steep hill in the same gear that you use to go up the hill.
  12. Securely tie down equipment and loads. Slow down around curves.
  13. When towing equipment, use safety chains and the proper size ball and hitch assembly.
  14. Lock tractor brake pedals together to ensure adequate braking on both wheels.
  15. Maintain speeds that are appropriate for the area, the road and traffic conditions, and the time of the year.
  16. Raise hydraulic wings and lock them in place. Relocate hitch points, remove headers, and make equipment narrower for the road.
  17. Assist large machines with pilot vehicles equipped with flashing amber lights and signs warning of an oversized load.
  18. Drive slow moving vehicles as far right as possible but stay on the road.
    1. a)    Motorists may try to pass in hazardous situations.
    2. b)   The shoulder may be soft causing the operator to lose control.
  19. Stay off public roadways with farm machinery after dark unless absolutely necessary and then only when your vehicle and equipment is adequately lighted for night travel.

Excerpted from Farm Safety Series PNW 512.

Contact the WSU/Cooperative Extension office in your county to get a complete copy.

Compiled by John Fouts. For more information, contact WSU Extension, (509) 477-2048.