Safety urged during this fall harvest season
SIKESTON — Motorists are reminded to share the road with farmers and their equipment as the harvest season is in full swing in Southeast Missouri.
“Farming plays a vital role in Missouri’s economy, history and identity,” said Capt. John J. Hotz with Missouri State Highway Patrol. “…Expect to see an increase in farm machinery traffic—especially on rural highways. Please obey all traffic laws and remain vigilant. Farmers and motorists alike are encouraged to be safe, courteous drivers.”
There were 186 Missouri traffic crashes involving farm equipment in 2018. In those crashes, seven people were killed and 66 were injured.
“Shift Farm Safety Into High Gear” is the theme of this year’s National Farm Safety and Health Week, which concludes Saturday.
Fall harvest and texting on Missouri’s rural roadways do not mix, said University of Missouri Extension safety and health specialist Karen Funkenbusch.
“Turn your cellphone to TTYL ('talk to you later' and stay alert for moving farm equipment,” she said.
Funkenbusch said family members should talk about texting and driving whether they live in town or the country. Remind new drivers about the dangers of slow-moving farm equipment, she said.
Only three states allow texting and driving. Missouri is one of them. However, Missouri laws do prohibit anyone under age 21 from texting and driving, which makes it even more important for drivers to be on alert during harvest, Funkenbusch said.
A number of factors increase risks as farm equipment travels rural roadways, according to Funkenusch. Shortened daylight hours reduce visibility, she said. Fatigue and stress sometimes increase response times. Tractors and other large equipment need extra space on roadways and make wide turns.
Large farm equipment can reduce visibility on the road. School buses make frequent stops on their morning and afternoon runs. Add texting drivers and you have a recipe for disaster, she said.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that texting makes drivers 23 times more likely to crash, the same as driving after drinking four beers.
“Reduce the need for speed during harvest season. At 55 mph, it takes a car just five seconds to close the length of a football field and overtake a tractor moving 15 mph,” she said.
Hotz also offered general tips for both motorists and farmers this fall harvest season:
— Stay alert for slow-moving farm equipment.
— When you come up behind a tractor or other farm machinery, please slow down and be patient. Wait to pass until you have a clear view of the road ahead and there is no oncoming traffic. Never pass on a hill or curve.
— Collisions commonly occur when a motorist tries to pass a left-turning farm vehicle. A tractor that appears to be pulling to the right side of the road to let motorists pass, instead may be preparing to make a wide left turn. Watch the farmer’s hand and light signals closely.
— Pay close attention to farm equipment entering and leaving the highway from side roads and driveways.
— Special attention must be paid when traveling at dawn or dusk when the sun makes it difficult for drivers to see.
— Make sure any farm equipment being driven on Missouri roadways is properly marked with lights and a “slow-moving vehicle” emblem.
— Drive as far to the right as possible.
— If traffic accumulates behind you on a road where it is difficult to make a safe pass, you should pull off onto the side of the road in a level area, so the vehicles can pass.
— If possible, never travel on roadways at dawn or dusk when it is more difficult for drivers of other vehicles to see. However, Missouri law allows agricultural machinery and implements to be operated on state highways between the hours of sunset and sunrise for agricultural purposes provided such vehicles are equipped with the required lighting.
— Like other motor vehicles, most modern farm tractors have seat belts. Always use a seat belt when operating a tractor equipped with a roll-over protection structure.
— Often, all-terrain vehicles are used for agricultural purposes. ATVs being used for farming can only travel on highways during daylight hours and must be equipped with lights, a bicycle flag, and a “slow-moving vehicle” emblem. The law requires anyone under the age of 18 to wear a safety helmet when operating an ATV; the Patrol, however, recommends operators wear a safety helmet regardless of age.
“Driving is a full-time job ... for everyone,” Hoz said. “Distracted drivers are dangerous drivers. Whether you’re driving a vehicle or operating farm machinery, you must pay attention to the roadway, other drivers, and traffic signs. It’s that simple.”