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Rural road survival skills

George Hebl has spent 17 years fine-tuning his defensive driving skills.

The Solon, Iowa, farmer says, “I've had a school bus pass me in a no-passing zone. One time a vehicle passed me when I was driving a tractor with my son behind me in a pickup. My son and I had our left turn signals on,” he says. “People don't understand farm equipment, or they're in a big hurry.”

Kelley Donham, director of Iowa's Center for Ag Safety and Health (I-CASH), agrees with Hebl.

“Crashes on rural roads occur at more than twice the rate of crashes on state roads,” he says. “We've been working hard to raise awareness on this issue because in most cases, these accidents are preventable with proper awareness, education, and a little patience.”

I-CASH organized a rural roadway safety demonstration prior to harvest at a farm near Iowa City, Iowa. The event offered an opportunity to the media, including KGAN-TV in Cedar Rapids, to ride in a tractor or combine on a rural road to experience firsthand the dangers.

It also featured presentations from rural road safety experts, engineers, and local farmers, and included a Q&A session with local law enforcement.

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 equipment 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 lack basic driving knowledge. Only one in four is aware of the safe following distance – a critical factor in motor vehicle and machinery collisions.

That's one reason why a new DVD, Rural Road Crashes – They're Preventable, is aimed at teenagers who drive on gravel and rural hard-surface roads. The 10-minute DVD and curriculum kit were produced by I-CASH with funds from the Iowa DOT and a grant from the Great Plains Center for Ag Health.

The DVD and kit are being distributed statewide to drivers' education classes. Visit and click on a link for a download of the DVD. To order the DVD and kit, call 515/237-3180 or email

Install ROPS Protection

A series of four tractor rollovers during two months in Iowa earlier this year triggered a hazard alert warning by the Iowa Fatality Assessment Control and Evaluation (FACE) program.

All four incidents involved farmers over the age of 70 years.

“Rollover protective structures don't prevent rollovers from occurring,” says John Lundell, deputy director of the Injury Prevention Resource Center in the University of Iowa College of Public Health. “But installed and used properly with a seat belt, these devices are 99% effective in preventing injury or death.”

Many older tractors have not been retrofitted. Mark Purschwitz, University of Kentucky, has collected and organized ROPS information by tractor make and model. To retrofit your tractor, visit Search by selecting a tractor make and model number.

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