Iowa Department of Transportation
Fall Harvest Safety
Another crop season is coming to a close and already we are seeing farm vehicles on the roadways. Each year, Iowa farmers move nearly two billion bushels of grain from production to market, most on our country and state highway systems. Much is transported by tractors or other farm vehicles. To ensure our safety while traveling on the roadways, farm vehicles have set standards for lighting and marking. Those standards include turn signals, headlights, taillights, warning lights, reflectors or reflective tape and of course the slow-moving vehicle (SMV) emblem.
Unfortunately older farm vehicles may not be so equipped or the operator may neglect to utilize them. And if the push is on to get crops in from the field the farm vehicle operator may be suffering from fatigue and not operating in a safe manner.
The following are the three most common types of collisions involving farm vehicles and defensive driving tips for each situation.
The most common type of farm vehicle collision on public roads is the left turn collision. It happens when the farm vehicle is about to make a left turn and the motorist behind decides to pass. This may happen because the large farm vehicles, such as combines or tractors and wagons, may swing to the right before making a left turn because they need extra room to enter a farm gate or driveway. This could be confusing to the motorist who may think the farm operator is moving over to let him pass. To drive defensively consider the following:
• Is it really turning? Never assume you know what another vehicle will do.
• Is there a turn signal? Watch for flashing lights, but remember not everyone uses them.
• Where could it t urn? Check for gates, driveways or any place a farm vehicle may turn.
The second most common type of farm vehicle collision is the rear-end collision. It’s easy to misjudge speed of slow moving vehicles. It’s important to identify slow moving vehicles early, in many cases you may only have a few seconds to react. Remember to do the following:
• Be alert. Farm vehicle traffic will be heaviest on roadways during planting and harvest.
• Slow down immediately. Start to apply the brakes like you would when approaching a stoplight.
• Keep your distance. Most farm equipment is not designed to travel at speeds greater than 25 miles per hour. Even when towed behind pickups, equipment such as sprayers and fuel tanks often travel less than 25 miles per hour.
Another common type of collision is when motorists attempt to pass farm vehicles. Some farm equipment is extra wide or long and motorists may not take into account the width or length of the equipment or the sway of the tractor and its towed load. To avoid problems:
• Be patient. Don’t assume the farmer can move aside to let you pass. Farm vehicles are heavy and shoulders may not be able to support the weight. Even though you slow to 20 mph for two miles, it only takes six minutes of your time, about the same as waiting for two traffic lights.
• Make sure you are clear. Use proper passing techniques; make sure you can see the farm vehicle in your rearview mirror before returning to your lane. And remember that some farm vehicles are wider than the road itself and may need to move to the left of center when they are passing a mailbox, bridge or other stationary object along the edge of the road.
Many people assume that collisions happen during bad weather or hazardous conditions. Studies have repeatedly shown that nearly 80 percent occur on dry straight roads in daytime. Remember the tips given above to help you operate safely during this busy time of year.