Motorists, be alert: Spring means farm equipment on roads

tractorSpring planting and the harvest of wheat and other small grains in May and June means more Virginia farmers will need to be moving tractors and other heavy equipment on public roads.

Virginia Farm Bureau and county Farm Bureau leaders statewide are encouraging drivers to be aware.

“The most important thing you can do is watch for farm equipment on the road, and know that it’s probably not moving very fast,” said Scott DeNoon, farm product and underwriting manager for Virginia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co. “The next-most-important thing you can do is slow down when you see equipment, whether it’s ahead of you in your lane or approaching you from the other direction. These are often machinery that are wider than a single travel lane, and they are built for power, not for speed.”

State law requires that all farm tractors and self-propelled farm machinery that typically travel slower than 25 mph display a triangular slow-moving vehicle emblem on the rear of the vehicle when being driven on a public roadway. Many farmers also use flashing amber lights, reflective decals and escort vehicles to alert approaching drivers.

SMV emblems on the backs of slow-moving equipment warn drivers to start slowing down right away. The distance between a car traveling at 55 mph and a tractor going 20 mph will close quickly.

Consequently, a little patience on motorists’ part goes a long way, DeNoon said. “Most equipment operators will pull over when it is safe to let traffic pass them. And many use the same three hand signals that bicyclists use to indicate when they are braking or turning.”

He added that farm equipment takes longer than passenger vehicles to stop, some equipment requires the driver to swing wide to make a turn, and not all pieces have turn signals. “There are a lot of good reasons not to follow too closely.”

When passing farm machinery—never in a no-passing zone—use extreme caution. If the equipment is followed by an escort vehicle, don’t pass that vehicle and get between it and the equipment.

“It’s not unusual in Virginia for farmers to have to use the roads to move equipment from field to field,” DeNoon noted. “Many of them try to avoid moving equipment during peak traffic times and try to avoid heavily used roads.

“But they need the driving public to know they are out there.”

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