RICHMOND, Va. — A new video funded by a Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles highway safety grant was created to help reduce traffic deaths involving slow-moving vehicles.
Janet Brooking, executive director of Drive Smart Virginia, said about 19 percent of U.S. residents live in rural areas, and nearly 50 percent of crash deaths occur there.
“Rural roadways present their own set of challenges. Learning about slow-moving vehicles will likely save lives,” Brooking said. Drive Smart Virginia conceptualized and produced the video with support from Virginia Farm Bureau and the Virginia Department of Transportation.
“We recognize the need to deliver traffic safety programs to rural Virginia and appreciate the Virginia Farm Bureau’s partnership in our efforts to reach those communities. We expect this video to reach thousands of Virginians.”
The Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers Committee tracked 10 farm-related fatalities between December 2017 and December 2018, making last year “one of the worst years in the recent history of farm accidents in Virginia,” said William “Bear” Lloyd, a Washington County farmer and member of the committee. The Young Farmers, along with the VFBF Women’s Committee, have made farm safety one of their main areas of focus. The Young Farmers also have a safety subcommittee that works to keep farm safety issues in front of Farm Bureau members.
The National Safety Council reports that approximately 15,000 farm vehicles are involved in highway crashes annually. Studies show that 90 percent of collisions between slow moving vehicles and motor vehicles occur on dry roads during daylight hours, and two-thirds are rear-end collisions. When a fatality occurs, the victim is usually the tractor operator.
Tractors generally travel at less than 20 mph, compared to cars cruising at 55 mph or faster, the NSC reports. Motor vehicle drivers need to be able to identify slow-moving vehicles in time to react safely.
The new Drive Smart video features a farmer and Farm Bureau member, Wallick Harding of Amelia County. In it, he talks about a tractor accident that came close to taking his life.
Harding said moving equipment on public roads has become more dangerous for farmers. While slow-moving vehicle awareness is part of Virginia’s Standards of Learning for driver education, he’s not convinced students are getting the message. “And everybody’s distracted and in a hurry.”
His accident happened on Jan. 27, 2018, while he was moving a tractor from one field to another on U.S. Route 360 like he’d done for decades. But this time — despite a slow-moving vehicle emblem and flashing lights on the tractor — a motorist rear-ended him. The impact shoved the tractor off the road and into a tree, causing Harding to go into cardiac arrest and resulting in a brain injury.
He spent three days in a coma, 13 days in an intensive care unit and week in a rehabilitation facility re-learning how to walk. After recovering from the accident, Harding contacted VDOT and asked that the agency install two large, reflective tractor crossing signs on the highway near his farm to help avoid future crashes.
— Virginia Farm Bureau Federation