GOSHEN, Ind. — There are more than 1,000 farm vehicle crashes each year in the United States. Seventy-five percent of those accidents result in injury, with a higher proportion of the injuries falling onto the driver of the non-farm vehicle.
In Elkhart County, more than half of our 200,000 people live in rural areas, so the chance of an encounter with a farm implement or buggy is quite high. Add to that the speed at which people drive down our rural roads, and the impatient nature of our society, it is no wonder accidents occur.
A slow-moving vehicle sign is a must. It doesn’t matter how many flashing lights the tractor or machinery have on it. The law says farm vehicles must have a Slow-Moving Vehicle (SMV) sign mounted 3 to 5 feet above the pavement and in the center of the load, or as close as possible. Red flags are not substitutes for SMV signs. Signs need to be visible to all drivers and not damaged.
Operators can’t tow more implements than what’s allowed, and that general rule is to only tow two implements. Towing more that that is potentially risky situation that should be avoided.
Indiana has a “slow poke rule” that applies to slow moving vehicles. Indiana code states that if farmers are driving a slow-moving vehicle and three or more vehicles get backed up behind them, it’s the farmer’s duty to pull over at the next possible safe place and allow them to pass. BUT, farmers should only let motorists pass when it is completely safe to do so. All parties need to be patient in these matters.
The law does not require a license to drive a tractor, and there is no minimum age requirement to do so. Even a child does not need a license to drive a tractor on an Indiana road. However, common sense should be at the forefront and they should be trained on how to drive and operate a farm vehicle safely. This includes teaching the kids how to use signals, how to judge speeds of oncoming vehicles, and the importance of not being a distracted driver.
Make sure any towing equipment is visible. Indiana state law says that where flashers are required on tractors, flashing lights on the tractor or on a pickup are sufficient, but there is no need for flashing lights at the rear of the towed piece. Farm equipment operators should take responsibility to make sure all flashing lights are visible. If the hauled equipment or pieces blocks the flashing lights, then flashing lights could be required on that equipment.
Know the rules about reflectors and flashing lights. Equipment built after July 1, 2006, must have reflectors and lights, according to requirements outlined in Indiana code. Reflective tape is not required, but it is recommended.
A high percentage of accidents occur when the slow-moving vehicle begins a left turn, just as a motorist begins to pass. Drivers should make sure that if they are going to pass farm machinery, the driver is not about to turn left. And the tractor operator should show their intention to turn left via blinkers or hand signals.
Slow moving vehicle signs do lose their reflectivity over time, and like every other piece of equipment, will need to be replaced from time to time.
— Jeff Burbrink, Extension Educator, Purdue Extension Elkhart County
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