HANCOCK COUNTY — The clock is ticking. Planting season has arrived. The goal for farmers is to have corn seed in the ground by June 5 and soybeans by June 20. That means the pressure is on local farmers to move into the fields and get to work.
Often, the only way to do that is to traverse county roads with their large equipment. Drivers need to be aware this is the time of the year they must share the roads with massive farm equipment, law enforcement leaders say.
Just last week, a vehicle collided with a piece of farm equipment on State Road 9 in Maxwell. While no one was injured, it didn’t end well for the small car.
According to AgFax.com, there are more than 1,000 farm equipment crashes each year in the United States. Some 75% of those accidents result in injury, with a higher proportion of the injuries suffered by those in the non-farm vehicle.
Officials from the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department want to remind drivers to be vigilant and watch for increased farm equipment traffic on the county roads in the coming weeks. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 32% of Indiana’s corn crop and 24% of soybeans had been planted through Sunday, May 2, so much field work is still to be done.
“Drivers need to share the road with farmers and their equipment as they work their fields,” said Capt. Robert Harris, public information officer for the sheriff’s department. “If a driver is behind a line of slow-moving traffic, it may be due to a farm implement on the road, so just be patient and drive safe.”
It’s never a good idea to try and pass a large piece of farm equipment on two-lane county roads unless a farmer pulls over and waves a driver through. Drivers need to be mindful of oncoming traffic they won’t be able to see until it’s too late, experts say.
Lais McCartney, Purdue Extension Hancock County educator for agriculture and natural resources, noted farmers have been working in the fields since mid-April and usually start planting when the soil temperature reaches 50 degrees. That work, slowed this week by rain, will only accelerate.
McCartney said the tractors can be difficult to manage when they’re being driven from field to field on the road. “A lot of those implements are really hard to see out of,” she said. “They’re huge and they run slow, and while farmers are being as careful as they can be, drivers really need to be patient around them.”
Farm equipment is supposed to display a slow-moving vehicle emblem on the rear and have lights making them more visible, according to Indiana law. Indiana code states if a farmer is driving a slow-moving vehicle and three or more vehicles get backed up behind him, it’s the farmer’s duty to pull over at the next possible safe place and allow them to pass. While the “slow-poke rule” is meant to help drivers, officials know drivers can become impatient and will try to pass when they see a chance. That’s when accidents can happen.
The law does not require a license to drive a tractor, and there is no minimum age requirement to do so, as with motor vehicles. That’s also something to keep in mind when approaching farm equipment on the roads, the experts said.
And, it’s important to pay attention.
“Distracted driving is so serious, and so we drivers need to make sure we are not distracted during these times because the implements are way bigger than our cars; so you do not want to tangle with them,” McCartney said.
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Farm equipment on the road won’t be moving at a speed greater than 30 to 40 mph. Here are some things to keep in mind as you contemplate passing:
–Look to ensure no vehicles are approaching in the opposite direction. Avoid passing on hills or curves.
–Give yourself space between you and the vehicle ahead of you.
–When passing oversized farm equipment, be sure you have ample room to your left and right.
–Be patient and courteous. Most farmers will pull over at the first opportunity to let you pass.