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April 01, 2009   Email to Friend 

Safety Campaign Strives to Save Lives
Darryal Ray

It was a day like any other when David Anderson hitched a fertilizer sprayer to his Ford 5610 tractor and headed south on U.S. Highway 431 near Guntersville.

Even at his usual full-throttle speed of 25 mph, the 3.8-mile trip to his coastal Bermuda hayfield on Baker's Chapel Road shouldn't take long. It was a trip he'd made countless times, usually about six times a week, as he'd go from field to field tending his cattle and hay fields.

But on April 30, 2007, the trip would be Anderson's last. Just a few hundred feet before turning off the four-lane highway, an 18-wheeler slammed into the rear of the sprayer tank filled with 500 gallons of nitrogen. David Anderson, president of the Marshall County Farmers Federation, was dead at 42.

"He was like a son to me," says 71-year-old Martin Anderson, David's eldest brother who had helped raised him after their father died.

According to the Alabama Department of Public Safety (DPS), David Anderson was among six highway fatalities involving farm equipment that year. It was the most highway fatalities involving farm equipment since 1999.

Figures aren't yet available for 2008, but DPS spokeswoman Martha Earnhardt knows one thing: One farmer killed is one too many.

"We're not looking at a lot of collisions involving farm equipment," says Earnhardt. "It's a small number, but one fatality isn't small if it's YOUR family. So whenever we see a way to bring those numbers down even further, whether it's through education, enforcement, engineering or partnerships, that's what we try to do."

With that in mind, the Alabama Farmers Federation, the Alabama Department of Public Safety and the Alabama Department of Transportation are partnering to launch "Farmer At Work," a statewide safety campaign to create an awareness of slow-moving farm vehicles on the road.

The campaign will feature radio and television public service announcements, newspaper and magazine advertising, promotional materials and print and Web coverage.

"Every farmer has a story," says Dan Rhyne of Benton, president of the Lowndes County Farmers Federation whose own stories of death, injuries and near misses were the impetus behind the campaign.

Rhyne says one of his own workers was moving equipment with a tractor when he was struck and killed by an 18-wheeler about a decade ago. Since then, Rhyne has seen or heard of numerous other farming accidents on U.S. Highway 80, a four-lane highway with a 65 mph speed limit.

Several miles north, Allen Jones, a former state Young Farmers chairman, sits in his pickup truck waiting for a single car to pass before he pulls onto Highway 79. It's a fairly straight two-lane blacktop that cuts right through the middle of his Blount County farm. The car is at least a quarter-mile away, but Jones has been extra careful since his accident in 2005.

He had just steered his John Deere 5310 onto the highway and was about a half-mile from home when he heard a car horn behind him. As he turned in his seat to see who was blowing their horn, a woman in a compact car struck the tractor, shearing off its left fender and wheel. "As I turned around, she was about a foot from the back of the tractor. I was looking right at her when she hit," says Jones. "She had long blonde hair, and I can still see it flying toward the windshield."

Fortunately, no one was seriously injured.

Escorts are really the best solution for farmers, says Dr. Jesse LaPrade, an Extension agent who tracks such accidents from his office at Auburn University. That's because so few motorists either don't know what the reflective triangle on the back of farm vehicles means or that tractors can't go any faster.

"Some don't have a clue what that means," LaPrade said of the yellow-orange fluorescent Slow-Moving Vehicle (SMV) sign in use since 1971. "They see the triangle and the bright color, and they know it means something. If they'd just realize that the triangle means it's a vehicle that can't go more than 25 mph ... we've got to get that message out."

According to state law the SMV sign is required on the back of every vehicle that has a "maximum potential speed of 25 mph." The law specifies the size of the sign as well as requirements as to how it's to be affixed to the vehicle.

More important, LaPrade says, is that drivers understand just how quickly an automobile moving 55 mph will close the gap on a tractor a football field away. At that speed and distance, the car and tractor will collide within five seconds. By the time a driver realizes he's about to rear-end the tractor, he/she will only have about three seconds to act.

LaPrade says today's hurry-up culture may be a factor in highway accidents involving farm vehicles. "Patience is a virtue, but it can also save lives," he says. "Some may see a tractor that's slowing them down as a hindrance. They don't think much beyond that, but all the farmer is doing is trying to make a living."


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