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Farmer at Work
A Sign of Progress:  Farmer at Work Farmer at Work
It's A Living; It's The Law

Darryal Ray
(334) 613-4187

A tractor with a bright, fluorescent orange triangle on the rear could mean more than lost time -- it could mean a lost life.

Drivers traveling along at 55 mph have about three seconds before they would collide with a tractor a whole football field away. That's because most farm tractors -- and other equipment such as combines or cotton pickers -- are incapable of moving any faster than 25 mph, the maximum potential speed of any vehicle bearing the slow-moving vehicle sign.

According to Alabama's state law (Title 32, Chapter 5, Sections 246-251), 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, says Dr. Jesse LaPrade, a specialist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, is that drivers understand just how quickly an automobile can close the gap on a slow-moving tractor. "You need to slow down as soon as you see that sign," says LaPrade. "Don't wait until you're up on it -- it's not going to speed up."

LaPrade says today's hurry-up culture is frequently 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."

The Alabama Farmers Federation's "Farmer At Work" safety campaign included four public service announcements featuring farmers addressing the need for caution around farm equipment bearing the SMV sign.

Here are some tips for motorists - and farmers - to keep in mind whenever their paths cross on the highway.

FOR FARMERS...
  • A slow-moving vehicle sign is required for all tractors, farm and road machinery with a maximum potential speed of 25 mph. If pulling a trailer or utility wagon, such as a sprayer, the SMV sign should be affixed to the back of the trailer.
  • Vehicles capable of moving faster than 25 mph should NOT use SMV signs.
  • Avoid driving on public highways at dark. Whenever possible, travel only during light traffic times.
  • Stop, look in both directions and allow enough time before pulling onto highway -- tractors do not accelerate rapidly, especially when towing equipment.
  • Watch out for mailboxes, signposts, ditches or other hazards that may force you into the passing lane.
  • Keep close watch in front of and behind you. Motorists may approach from the rear at speeds two to three times faster than the tractor.
  • Be courteous. If traffic behind you is getting heavy, pull to the shoulder and stop but ONLY if there is plenty of room for ALL of your equipment.
  • Never try to "help" by motioning other vehicles to pass -- a vehicle may enter from a side road.
  • Look ahead and behind before making left-hand turns.
  • Whenever possible, ask someone to an escort vehicle with emergency flashers to follow.
  • Never allow extra riders.
A Sign of Progress:  Farmer at Work
Martin Anderson, whose brother was killed in 2007 when a tractor-trailer struck his tractor from behind, says motorists should be better educated about Slow-Moving Vehicle signs.
FOR MOTORISTS...
  • Urban sprawl is forcing more farmers to move equipment on public roadways more frequently.
  • The likelihood of meeting farm machinery on the public highway increases during planting, haying and harvest seasons (late February through late October).
  • Begin braking IMMEDIATELY after seeing a SMV sign. It takes a tractor 10 seconds to cross a road; at 55 mph, a car can travel 800 feet in that time span.
  • Be patient. Most farmers will move to the side of the road and let traffic pass when they are able to safely do so. They are not, however, required by law to do so.
  • Be courteous, and remember -- even at 25 mph, farm machinery has a LEGAL RIGHT to the roadway.
  • Much farm machinery is wider than the lanes of a highway -- exercise caution whenever passing.
  • Plan ahead. Always allow adequate travel time, particularly whenever traveling rural roadways where farms are present.
  • Be respectful. The farmer whose life you save is working to provide you with the necessities of life: food, fiber, energy and shelter.




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