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Women in Ag: You Gave My Husband the Wrong Finger

On Sunday, My Farmer was moving equipment from one field to another. This meant he had to drive on the main road in our town, which is full of houses. Mailboxes line the road. 
 
He was passed on this road by a car with a sunroof. The driver felt strongly enough about my husband’s presence on the road that he opened the sunroof, put his hand through it, and held up a finger. 
Surely, he gave my husband the wrong finger. I’m sure he meant to give him the thumbs-up, since my  husband was working on a Sunday, raising food this person may eat. Or, at the very least, he must have meant to show his pointer finger as in “We are #1” since agriculture is the top industry in North Carolina.
  
This is not the first time My Farmer has seen this finger. Lack of respect for tractors on the road is not new. I was driving the sprayer a few years ago down the very same road and was passed by a car on a bridge bearing a double solid line (which means Do Not Pass).  
This lack of respect for farm equipment on the road was mentioned in a survey the North Carolina Department of Labor conducted several years ago, when it discovered the number one workplace hazard for farmers was rural road traffic. 
Take a minute to think about that. Not equipment. Not working with livestock. Not grain bins. Farmers feel the biggest hazard is driving equipment down the road.
  
I took the picture above. Did you notice the car was passing on a solid line while going up a hill? Did you see the sign letting drivers know a stop sign was coming up, probably at the top of that hill?  Which meant the car passed illegally and cut back in front of the tractor in order to slam on their brakes for the stop sign. I’m just glad another car wasn’t coming in the opposite direction.
 
Farmers grow many different crops, which means tractors can be on the road year-round. At the same time, populations are increasing and spreading into traditionally rural areas from cities. 
More people and more farming increases the chance drivers will encounter farm equipment, especially from March (when many crops are planted) through November (harvest season). There are some years we’ve had equipment on the road in January, finishing up our soybean harvest.
  
According to the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles, farm equipment can legally travel all roads except for interstate. I can’t speak to the laws in other states, so check with your state division of motor vehicles. I’ve noticed in the last year a number of new signs on the roadside letting drivers know tractors may be on the same road. North Carolina Farm Bureau has been working with the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NC DOT), putting up billboards across the state with the tagline "See a Tractor? Slow Down." 
 
The maximum speed most farm equipment can go is 25 mph, but just because they CAN go that fast, it doesn’t mean it’s safe. The fact is, we know traffic is slowed down behind us. We will pull over when it is SAFE to pull over. We can’t pull large equipment over if there are mailboxes lining the road, little to no shoulder, or a soft shoulder that can’t support the equipment’s weight.
Equipment is built for fields, not asphalt roads. Most farm equipment is large, bulky, and heavy.  A combine used to harvest corn, soybeans, and wheat can weigh 35,000 pounds – that’s over 17 tons. My Honda Civic weighs approximately 3,000 pounds or 1.5 tons. Not only does it make my car easier to handle on the road, but in the event I have an accident with a combine, I think I am at a distinct disadvantage.
  
So why is equipment built for the field on the road? Simple. We have to get to the field. I mentioned that populations were increasing – well, those people have to live somewhere. Some choose to live in the city, but others want the “country” life. 
Developments have bought up farmland, resulting in a mix of residential houses scattered among farm fields.  When farmland is developed, farmers have to search out land farther away from their central shop.  We farm land in three different counties.  I know some farmers who rent farmland almost one hour from their central shop.
In North Carolina, most accidents involving farm equipment happen on clear, sunny days on paved roads.  One NC DOT study showed 51% of those crashes resulted in injury or death.  A majority of accidents were rear-end collisions: The driver of the car failed to slow down and ended up hitting the back of farm equipment. 
 
According to Farm Bureau, if you are driving 55 mph and the tractor in front of you is going 15 mph, it will take you 5 seconds to close a gap the length of a football field.  In other words, in the time it took you to read this sentence, you could have had a rear-end collision.
Most farm equipment has a slow-moving vehicle (SMV) emblem on the back. This reflective triangle is orange with a red border. When drivers see an SMV emblem, they should automatically tap their breaks. This sign is telling you the equipment it’s on can’t go over 25 mph.
Slowing your car down to 20 mph and following a tractor for 2 miles will take approximately 6 minutes, the same amount of time it takes to sit through two red stop lights. 
 
If you do pass farm equipment, do so with caution, not like you are on the final turn of the Indianapolis 500.  Equipment is often wider than the lane of traffic. There may be an attachment on the front you don’t see until you try to cut back in front of us. We can’t stop a tractor on a dime, so cutting us off is not safe for either driver. 
 
Before you pass, make sure we are not turning left.  Many accidents happen because a tractor pulls to the right preparing to make a left turn, only to have the car behind assume the tractor is pulling over and instead of passing, hit the tractor.  Just to reiterate, equipment is large so it needs room to turn.
    
If you pass us, obey the laws.  Don’t pass on a double yellow line, in a curve, going up a hill or over a bridge.  Just because we are moving slow, it's not an excuse to break the law. 
 
I used to speak to driver’s ed classes about sharing the road with farm equipment.  I always reminded those teenagers driving is a privilege that carries a great deal of responsibility.  Unfortunately, teens aren’t the only ones who need a reminder that getting behind slow moving farm equipment is a short-term inconvenience that calls for patience – it's not an excuse for road rage.
Next time you are on the road behind farm equipment, take a minute. That’s my husband and my children’s father in that tractor doing his job.  You should be giving him a thumbs up or a #1 when you see him, or any farmer, on the road.  Pass him with respect and don’t throw up the wrong finger.  
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