A Little Road Safety Refresher

As days get warmer, the itch to hit the field gets stronger. It’s springtime in Wisconsin, which means planting season is getting underway for farmers across the state.

Traveling with agricultural equipment on the road poses an increased hazard that is often a dreaded part of farming. It is critical that farmers ensure their vehicles meet legal requirements and operate safely while sharing roadways with their fellow motorists.

“During the busy seasons, it can be easy to get impatient with farmers on the road,” said Wisconsin Farm Bureau President Kevin Krentz. “Being aware and patient on the road is a shared responsibility among all motorists. We all want to return home to our families at the end of a long, hard day. Safety is our common goal on Wisconsin roads.”

According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, 39 people have been killed and 896 injured since 2011 in crashes involving agricultural equipment in Wisconsin.

Three scenarios that farmers and motorists should know how to handle are passing an Implement of Husbandry (IOH), left-hand turns and braking distance needed at controlled intersections.

Passing: Before attempting to pass in a no-passing zone, know that is illegal to pass an IOH including farm tractors and farm machinery or an agricultural commercial motor vehicle (Ag CMV).

Motorists should wait to pass a slow-moving vehicle until they have safely entered a passing zone. Farmers should not pull over in a no-passing zone to let vehicles pass unless the road shoulder condition and width can allow for the farm machinery to completely move onto the shoulder.

Farmers also should not wave a driver forward to pass. While these actions seem courteous, it sends mixed signals and is not encouraged. In a passing zone, or if the shoulder width permits, farmers are obligated to yield the roadway to an overtaking vehicle so they do not impede the normal movement of traffic.

Left-hand turn: It can turn into a dangerous situation when a farmer is attempting to make a left-hand turn. Farm equipment, especially the tractor, will have two flashing amber or yellow lights on the cab or tire fenders of the tractor when on the roadway. When a farmer signals to turn, the light will continue to flash in the direction the farmer is turning. The other light will go solid.

For motorists, this is an important distinction to recognize. For farm tractors or farm machinery without turn signals, hand signals should be used to indicate the farmer’s intention to turn.

A controlled intersection: When a motorist legally passes large farm equipment within a short distance of a controlled intersection (stop sign or stop lights), this action can dramatically impact the reaction time and braking distance for the farmer. Farm equipment is heavier than a passenger vehicle, which makes it critical to have adequate braking distance.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation recommends that motorists should slow down immediately whenever they see a slow-moving vehicle emblem (orange and red triangle) on the rear of a tractor or other piece of equipment. This emblem indicates that the farm machine usually travels slower than 25 mph. Stay alert, focused and patient when passing a slow-moving agricultural vehicle in an area where passing is legal.

Farmers are asked to comply with the proper lighting and marking requirements to draw attention to the size, shape and speed of agricultural vehicles and to alert motorists that caution is required. There are specific requirements for different types of equipment. This information can be found here.

Farmers also should know their local weight restrictions. Generally, agricultural weight limits are 23,000 pounds per axle or 92,000 pounds gross vehicle weight, dependent on number of axles and axle spacing, and subject to seasonal or special postings.

Farmers can find more information about weight limits from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

“When we all commit to safe and attentive driving practices, we can enjoy Wisconsin rural roads with peace of mind,” Krentz added.