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Making Farm Equipment More Visible Could Reduce Accidents by 60%, Says Study

If farm vehicles were required to have more lights and reflection, farm vehicle accidents could be cut by 60%, according to a new study from the University of Iowa College of Public Health.

The study looked at farm-equipment crashes in nine Midwestern states compared to the states’ policies on lighting and reflectors. The American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) has standards for lighting and marking farm vehicles, including the number of headlights, taillights, and turn signals as well as the number and size of reflective markers. However, not all states have adopted these standards.

The nine states in the study have adopted the standards to different degrees or have their own policies that address the same issues. The study found that there were fewer crashes in states with more stringent lighting and marking policies, especially in states that adhered to ASABE’s standards. Specifically, states with greater ASABE compliance had 11% fewer farm equipment crashes.

If states implemented policies that increased ASABE compliance by just 25% over their current policy, the researchers estimate the number of accidents would be cut by 60%. This would reduce the number of accidents per year from 972 to 385, using data from 2005 to 2010.

Marizen Ramirez, a University of Iowa professor and lead investigator on the study, says most accidents between farm vehicles and passenger vehicles occur because the passenger vehicle drivers aren’t familiar with farm equipment.

“One of the big challenges with farm equipment on the roadway is they are large vehicles and tend to move slowly,” says Ramirez. “That makes it more difficult for drivers of vehicles to see and judge their speed. So increasing their visibility with lighting and good marking, especially at dusk or when it’s dark, can really help vehicles interact more safely with farm equipment.”

How to Make Your Equipment More Visible

Regardless of your state’s policies, there are certain steps you can take to keep yourself, your family, and other vehicle’s passengers safe.

“While farmers are concerned about risk when traveling on the road, it is the other vehicles that suffer more injuries when a crash occurs,” adds Ramirez. “This is about everybody sharing the road safely, and farmers doing their part.”

Here are four steps to make your equipment more visible. While these tips are important for all equipment, they are especially critical for older equipment.

  1. Outline your equipment. “Use reflective tape on the widest points of your equipment, so people can see from a distance how large it is,” advises Kari Harland, who assisted with the study and owns a farm.
  2. Use a slow-moving vehicle (SMV) emblem. This should be clean and highly reflective so it can be seen from a distance, says Harland. The SMV sign will also need to be replaced over time as these do fade.
  3. Make sure all lights work on equipment. “Lighting can have a bigger impact on making equipment visible than marking does, so make sure it works properly,” says Harland.
  4. Consider adding red taillights to towed equipment. While this is an ASABE recommendation, Harland realizes it is one of the more expensive, difficult standards to comply with. “For implements like grain wagons, the equipment doesn’t have its own source of electricity. So you have to figure out a way to get it from the tractor to the towed implement,” she says. “Adding the lighting could be a great Christmas present.”

Use your downtime wisely this winter to make these changes, so your equipment is ready to go in 2017. In addition, remember these best practices as you move equipment.

  1. Have lights on and flashing as you go down the road. Even in the daytime, have your lights on and flashing as you move from field to field.
  2. If possible, avoid traveling on roadways at night. “Try to reduce as much travel in the dark as possible, especially during peak travel times for passenger vehicles,” says Ramirez. “This is more difficult to do, but it is something to take into consideration.”
  3. Use your turning signals. “One of the most common ways a crash happens is when a farmer is going to turn left and a passenger vehicle goes to pass the farmer,” says Harland. “Using the turn signals can reduce this type of crash.”

Here's an example of the proper marking for a tractor and an implement, provided by the University of Illinois Ag Safety Program.

farm-safety-marking-tractor

farm-safety-marking-implement

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