Another harvest season will be here in no time. There’ll be lots of opportunities to get out with our families to get some cider or enjoy those pumpkin patches. But, fall harvest is a prime time for road-related accidents, when those idyllic and peaceful country roads in central Illinois become high traffic and especially hazardous.
Every year, more than a thousand farm vehicle crashes occur in the Midwest, with rear-end crashes involving passenger vehicles being the most common type, often on roads with speed limits of 55 mph. Crashes between cars and farm equipment are nearly always severe. Injuries occur 75% of the time, with the non-farm driver five times more likely to get hurt, than the ag-equipment driver. Harvest time is the deadliest, with half of crashes occurring in the fall and between 2-6 p.m.
Even now, farmers may be emptying grain bins to prepare for the upcoming harvest, resulting in increased truck and tractor traffic. And, once harvesting begins, you’ll certainly be sharing the roads with combines, tractors, grain wagons, auger carts, and grain trucks. Those farmers work long hours and grain truck drivers are often fatigued, driving vehicles they may not be used to driving, and carrying heavy loads that make it difficult to judge stopping distances. Impatience, distractions, fatigue, and speed can be a deadly combination on rural roads at this time of year.
Our Top Driving Safety Tips at Harvest:
- Slow down — those flashing lights mean “caution” and those big triangles mean “slow-moving vehicle”.
- Keep a safe distance so he can see you. If you can’t see his mirrors, he can’t see you.
- Don’t assume he knows you’re there; farm equipment is noisy and he may not hear your approach — don’t be afraid to use that horn if you decide to pass.
- Pick a safe place to pass and pass wide.
- Make sure there’s nothing coming in the other lane. Wide equipment creates large blind spots.
- Don’t pass within 100 feet of any intersection, hill, railroad grade crossing, bridge, elevated structure, or tunnel.
- Watch for possible field entrances requiring left-hand turns — a top safety risk for farm vehicles. When he pulls to the right side of the road, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s letting you pass — he may be preparing for a wide left turn. Watch for hand and light signals.
- When meeting oncoming farm equipment, pull to the right-hand side of the road, if the shoulder permits, to ensure a safe passage.
- Slow down or stop at those intersections, especially if standing crops block the view. Grain trucks are heavy, can be moving fast, and require long stopping distances.
- When visibility is limited by dusty conditions, the sun is low on the horizon, night has fallen, or in poor weather conditions, be especially vigilant.
- Be wary of unsecured cargo like bales of hay that, if not properly secured, can cause catastrophic damage.
- Leave plenty of time to reach your destination if the trip involves travel on rural roads.
- Distracted driving is a major cause of all accidents, but be especially careful to avoid the electronics near farm equipment. The text, call, or e-mail can wait, and there will be no more social media posts if you’re dead.
Slow down, be patient, be alert, and leave the cell phone alone to keep everyone safe in harvest season.