(9/14/12) If you're heading out to the rural areas to pick pumpkins and apples or check out the fall colors, you are likely to encounter slow moving farm equipment as fall harvest season is underway throughout the state.
That means it's time for all drivers to be especially aware of farm equipment and slow down when encountering slow moving farm equipment.
"A change in state law though makes it all the more important for all drivers on rural highways to be cautious," said Cheryl Skjolaas, University of Wisconsin-Extension agricultural safety specialist. "It is now legal to pass a vehicle in a no-passing zone if traveling less than half of the applicable speed limit."
"This means that if a vehicle is traveling behind a slow-moving vehicle – one that is traveling less than half the posted speed – it is now legal to pass the slow-moving vehicle in a no-passing zone provided that caution is taken when passing," Skjolaas said.
Caution includes being aware of the road conditions and the type of slow-moving vehicle that one intends to pass, she noted. Make sure you have enough time and distance to pass safely
It's legal to drive farm machinery on public roads and it's often the only way farmers can get from field to field. Drivers must remember that farm equipment is big, slow and not very maneuverable.
"It's important to be alert and remember that these farm vehicles don't behave like cars and trucks when it comes to speed, turning or braking," Skjolaas said.
The combination of slow traveling farm equipment and faster motor vehicles means the time before the two meet can be seconds. Any type of distracted driving – talking on cellphone, checking a text message, being tired- and stopping without a crash is almost impossible.
Skjolaas offered some tips and reminders for motorist on rural roads:
– Farm machinery that goes less than 25 miles per hour (mph) should display an orange 'slow moving vehicle' or SMV emblem on the back. Alternatively, the equipment may have an amber strobe light.
– The farm equipment operator may not be able to see around the equipment, so don't assume that the operator knows you are approaching. Similar to semi-trucks many use large extended mirrors. When a driver follows too closely, the vehicle isn't visible to the farm equipment operator. Keep a safe distance back.
– A majority of farm equipment and motor vehicle crashes occur when the farm equipment operator slows down to turn left and the motorist moves to pass. If you plan to pass farm machinery, make sure the driver is not about to turn left. Before you decide to pass, look for driveways into farms or fields where the farm vehicle operator could be turning. Check turn signals or watch for the operator to use a hand signal when signal lights are not present.
– A road sign to watch for is a yellow and black warning sign with the symbol of a farmer driving a tractor. These signs are within 500 feet of a driveway to alert motorists of a farm or field drive with an obstructed view such as on a hill or around a curve.
– Farm equipment operators are not required to drive on the road shoulders. If safe, the farm machinery operator may pull off on the shoulder to allow traffic to pass. There is no law in Wisconsin that requires the farm equipment operator to pull off onto the shoulder for motor vehicles.
– Some wide equipment may extend into the oncoming traffic lane. Also, make sure the road is wide enough and watch for road-side obstacles such as mailboxes that might cause the equipment operator to drift to the left.
– Farm machinery may not have brake lights or turn signals. At night, lighting and marking requirements for farm equipment do apply.
– Farm machinery crossing the road moves slowly and may be pulling equipment that will take longer to clear the road. Don't try to pass on the left as the equipment may swing out differently than you expect.
Slow down, enjoy the drive on a rural road and stay safe.