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Putting road safety on a fast track

CHERYL TEVIS 07/28/2011 @ 1:31pm Cheryl has been an editor at Successful Farming since 1979.

Daryl Hodel was towing a large wagon behind his tractor on U.S. 24 near El Paso, Illinois, in the fall of 2008. His wife, Deb, followed him in a pickup.

As he reached the field a half mile down the road, Hodel flipped on his left turn tractor and wagon signals. His wifealso signalled a left turn. Then she saw two semis approaching at 60 mph. She radioed him, warning him not to turn.

Both semis blew past. “If I'd made the turn, I wouldn't be here today,” he says.

About one third of fatal tractor incidents occur on public roads, according to the National Safety Council. Nearly half of all collisions between motorists and farm implements involve either a left-hand turn or a rear-end collision.

A 2011 driver survey by GMAC Insurance reveals that more than one in five Americans lacks basic driving knowledge. Only one in four is aware of the safe following distance – a critical factor in motor vehicle and slow-moving machinery collisions.

Roadway safety issues are likely to accelerate, based on these trends:

● Increased motor vehicle traffic in more urbanized rural areas.

● Fewer motorists with farm backgrounds.

● Larger farms requiring longer commutes.

● Larger farm equipment extending into the opposing lane of traffic.

In Illinois, motor vehicle and farm equipment collisions have ranked as the second leading cause of death since 2008, according to surveys by Country Financial, Bloomington. In 2011, four fatalities stemmed from such collisions.

“Over the last 10 years, the state has averaged about 200 crashes of motorists and farm equipment a year,” says Bob Aherin, University of Illinois Extension safety specialist.

Illinois is not an isolated case. A 2009 USDA Research and Extension committee report addressed the ramped-up risks on rural roads.

“The issues of operating agricultural equipment on public roads are multifaceted and complex,” the report noted. The committee called for a concerted focus on research, engineering design standards, education programs for farmers and the public, as well as public policy changes.

For farmers, the issue goes beyond buckling up for personal safety; it extends into the realm of managing public liability risk.

Aherin says the ticket to being road ready is making farm equipment more visible. Unfortunately, there is no federal road map. Legislation introduced in the U.S. House this year by Aaron Schock (R-IL) and Leonard Boswell (D-IA) would require standardized lighting and marking on new equipment (H.R. 843).

State laws vary widely. “Ohio was the first to adopt an extremity lighting law for multiwheel tractors in 2001,” says Dee Jepsen, Ohio State University Extension safety specialist. “In 2006, Ohio required new signage and a valid driver's license for operators of high-speed [over 25 mph] ag equipment.”

Almost all states require a slow-moving vehicle (SMV) emblem mounted in the center or left of center of the rear of vehicles and implements of husbandry.

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