Share the road during spring planting

Published 1:00 pm Thursday, March 24, 2022

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It’s spring planting season, and that means drivers need to be watchful on rural roadways as farmers move their equipment from field to field.

“We’re like bears coming out of hibernation,” chuckled Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Farm Safety Advisory Committee member Glenn Dye, who farms in Appomattox, Fauquier and Stafford counties.

“We’re getting back in the fields now when conditions are fit, temperatures are rising and field work needs to be done. There’s a very small window where a lot has to happen.”

Some of that work involves driving farm equipment on country roads fraught with blind turns, hills and sometimes trees blocking visibility. Additionally, large machinery like sprayers can easily take up most of the road.

“Combined with low visibility, a car traveling 55 mph quickly closes the distance to slow-moving equipment going 25 mph,” noted Dana Fisher, chair of the farm safety committee. “Those couple minutes drivers might save by going fast could lead to an accident if they aren’t careful.”

There’s no denying that driving on rural roads is hazardous. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, of the 36,936 traffic fatalities in 2019, 45% occurred in rural areas — despite only 19% of the U.S. population living in rural areas and only 30% of total vehicle miles traveled were in rural areas.

Virginia law requires vehicles that travel slower than 25 mph to rear-mount triangular slow-moving vehicle signs when it’s being driven on public roadways. Many farmers also use flashing amber lights and other reflective decals to alert approaching drivers.

Farmers also plan their equipment moves during times when roads aren’t as busy—avoiding rush hour and before and after school. They understand that cars want to get by, so they will pull over to let traffic pass when it’s safe to do so.

“A lot of people think that just because we have big tires and we’re big, we can get over, but that’s not the case,” Dye commented. “We try to be respectful of people’s property too, and we can’t just go pulling into people’s yards.”

Dye encouraged motorists to be aware of their surroundings if they’re pulling over to let equipment pass.

“Sometimes people will slow down and stop across from mailboxes,” he said. “Then I can’t move without the risk of taking out someone’s mailbox at the end of their driveway.”

Both Dye and Fisher stressed that motorists should make themselves visible, slow down and avoid risky behaviors to get around equipment.

“We’re all in this together,” Fisher said. “Just like you want to get home to your family safe after a long day working, our farmers do too.”