Agriculture, Rural Living March 01, 2023
For Pete's Sake
Turn your lights on.
How many times have you been driving in the rain or snow and couldn't easily see an oncoming vehicle because the driver forgot to turn on their lights? For me, it seems to happen almost every storm. But because of the weather, I am usually driving more cautiously so have time to react.
Now, how many times have you been that driver who forgot to turn your lights on? More often than you care to admit? And maybe more in recent years as most passenger vehicles now have automatic headlights? Given the weather conditions, you are probably driving as cautiously as the others on the road, so one could say "no harm, no foul."
But instead of a stormy day, consider you are driving down an open highway on a bright, crisp day. Are you expecting—and therefore prepared to react to—an implement many times greater than your car going only a third or quarter of your speed to be just over the next hill? No, probably not. What if you are the one driving that farm equipment; are you hoping those oncoming drivers expect to see you? Yes, definitely you are.
According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, in 2020 there were at least 660 roadway incidents resulting in injuries involving "motorized land vehicles" (e.g., tractors and other farm implements). State departments of transportation report thousands more incidents that resulted in property damage. We can all agree that is far too many.
Thankfully, implements are covered in flashing lights, reflective tape, and slow-moving vehicle (SMV) signage to help warn other drivers and keep farmers safe. They only work if they are turned on and not covered in dust and debris, though.
Have you ever forgotten to turn on your flashers as you moved between fields? Do you have older equipment with lackluster reflective tape and SMV signs?
Now is the time to make changes before you head to the field this spring.
Do more than comply. In 2016 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Department of Transportation (DOT), issued a federal standard for any agricultural equipment built after that date.
Self-propelled equipment needs two headlights, two red taillights, turn signals, brake lights, at least two flashing amber warning lights, a red reflective device, and an SMV sign.
Equipment being pulled or towed needs to have red and yellow reflective material visible from front and rear and any lights and signage that the implement obstructs on the self-propelled machine.
These are the baseline requirements in the United States and are in line with the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers' standards. Your state, county, and municipality may have additional requirements.
What the 2016 federal standard also means is older equipment needs only to comply with the standards at the time of manufacturing. So, the minimum requirements may be different for every piece of your equipment.
We already agreed there have been far too many roadway crashes involving farm equipment, and the CDC also says, "transportation incidents, which include tractor overturns, were the leading cause of death for farmers and farm workers who died from a work-related injury in 2020."
As such, lighting, and reflective and speed markings are not the regulations to comply with at only the bare minimums.
For yourself, your employee, neighbor, friend, family member, or the stranger coming down the road named Pete, please double-check your lights are turned on and signage is clean and visible each and every time you pull out onto the road. ‡
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