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Drivers warned to be careful of farm equipment on roads

Published 6:30am Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Special to The Post-Searchlight

Crashes involving farm equipment on Georgia’s roads increased by 33 percent in 2011, and as harvest season approaches, leaders of the state’s agriculture and highway safety agencies are joining forces to draw attention to the need for safety on the state’s rural roads.

Gary Black, the commissioner of the Georgia Department of Agriculture, and Harris Blackwood, the director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety (GOHS), are launching the second annual “Improving Georgia’s Yield Behind the Wheel” campaign.

“As our farmers are working to bring in this year’s crop, we want to remind Georgians of farmers’ increased presence on the roadways,” Black said. “While traveling, we urge you to be mindful of tractors and other farm equipment sharing the same roadways and to take extra precaution.”

Data shows that the rate of farm equipment crashes rose 33 percent from 2010 to 2011. Among the 401 reported accidents involving farm equipment last year, five resulted in fatalities. Many more resulted in serious injuries.

“Last year, our efforts created more awareness of the dangers on Georgia’s rural roadways, but clearly, we’ve got more work to do when it comes to protecting our people and our state’s biggest industry,” Blackwood said. “Our goal is to make sure everyone gets home safely, whether or not they get there in a combine or a convertible.”

Supported by the Georgia Farm Bureau, Black and Blackwood will appear together at the Georgia National Fair in Perry on Oct. 11 and the Sunbelt Ag Expo in Moultrie on Oct. 16 reminding both farmers and motorists of the importance of sharing the road.

Patience and vigilance, they say, is the key to saving lives.

Farm equipment often travels the roadway at speeds no higher than 25 mph, and legally must be marked with triangle-shaped reflectors to warn oncoming motorists of their presence on the roadway.

“As a farmer, I understand how slow-moving equipment may delay a motorist’s trip,” Zippy Duvall, president of the Georgia Farm Bureau, said. “But we farmers cannot always pull over as soon as we see an approaching vehicle. Sometimes the shoulder is too soft, too wet or too steep to safely support our heavy equipment.”

Rural roadways have proven more fatal to Georgians than even metropolitan Atlanta highways. Deadly crashes in rural areas are all too frequently attributed to speed on the often open roads.

Likewise, vehicles approaching farm equipment at a speed of 55 mph can travel the length of a football field within seconds, and have little time to react.

“Nothing is more enjoyable than a fun ride on a country road, but approaching a slow-moving farm vehicle at a high rate of speed could prove deadly,” Blackwood said. “Slowing down to 20 mph for two miles should only add six minutes to a commute. That’s about the time it takes to sit at two stop lights, and it’s just a drop in the bucket to the time you could lose in a crash on a rural road.”

Georgians can improve their yield behind the wheel by following a few simple tips travelling Georgia’s rural roadways:

For motorists:

• When passing a farm vehicle, do not enter an oncoming lane of traffic unless you can see clearly ahead of the vehicle you will pass.

• Do not assume that a farm vehicle that pulls to the right side of the road is going to turn right or is letting you pass. Due to the size of some farm implements, the farmer must execute wide left turns. If you are unsure, check the operator’s hand signals and check the left side of the road for gates, driveways or any place a farm vehicle might turn.

For farmers:

• Georgia law requires operators of slow moving vehicles to place a reflector on any machine that travels the road slower than 25 mph. Always point the triangle reflector upwards, keep the emblem clean to maximize reflectivity and replace the emblem when it fades, normally every two to three years.

• Mark the edges of tractors and machines with reflective tape and reflectors. Consider installing retrofit lighting on older machinery to increase visibility.

• Turn on your light, but turn off spotlights when going onto the road.

• Avoid the highway during rush hour and bad weather. Do not drive before sunrise or after sunset.

• Consider installing mirrors on equipment to enable you to be more aware of motorists around you.

For more information on the “Improving Georgia’s Yield Behind the Wheel” initiative, please visit www.gahighwaysafety.org or www.agr.georgia.gov

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